Tim Burton’s recent film “Big Eyes” is, unsurprisingly, worth seeing, but not for the reasons you may have expected.
“Big Eyes” is based on the life of Margaret Keane, an aspiring artist and single mother who married fellow artist Walter Keane after meeting him at a gathering of art vendors.
Realizing that Margaret is a much more talented artist than he and driven by intense insecurity, Walter begins passing her work off as his at a local nightclub and selling it under his own name.
When Margaret finds out, he convinces her to go along with him. For the next ten years, Margaret’s paintings, which all figure waifish figures, usually children, with abnormally large and expressive eyes, become a sensation in the art world- all under Walter’s name.
“Big Eyes” is a refreshing change of pace for director Tim Burton, who you may recognize as the creative force behind animated films such as “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as well as live-action films such as “Alice in Wonderland” and “Edward Scissorhands.”
Burton tends to adopt a dark, strange and fantastical quality in his films, and while “Big Eyes” is set in the somewhat lighter atmosphere of 1950s–1960s America, it doesn’t lose the bite that’s found in his previous work. Incidentally, Burton is actually a collector of Margaret Keane’s art, and the skeletal, doe-eyed figures featured in his art and animation are strongly reminiscent of her works.
The movie is aesthetically pleasing, incorporating the bright colors and bustling streets reminiscent of ’50s–’60s America while still maintaining a faint, shady undercurrent. This contributes to the plot of the movie rather than overwhelming it.
At the forefront of “Big Eyes” are stunning performances by both Cristoph Waltz and Amy Adams. While the role of an emotionally manipulative, troubled and volatile antagonist may not be a first for Waltz, he fills it well as always and manages to convince us of both the human weakness and malicious brutality in Walter Keane.
As Walter and Margaret attempt to further their careers and their marriage, it becomes apparent that Walter is a sly man; a talented salesman and a pro at smoothing any sort of deception into a reasonable-seeming prospect.
Similarly, Amy Adams is a pro at emanating vulnerability, overwhelming emotion and quiet strength in turn.
Margaret, the protagonist of “Big Eyes,” is not a rough-and-tough hero, nor is she a token “strong female character”; rather, she’s scared, weak and suffers from a deficit of self-confidence for much of the film. Far from making her an unappealing hero, these characteristics make her a more compelling character.
A good movie is supposed to emotionally invest the viewer, and “Big Eyes” is outstanding in its ability to do just that. While I identified with Margaret’s fear, I was equally frustrated with her lack of action.
I groaned every time Walter made a slippery move to manipulate Margaret and felt a pang of pity for him as I realized the truly pathetic nature of his insecurities. For someone who entered the theater expecting to be only mildly entertained, I was sufficiently impressed.
It’s especially incredible when you consider that the film is based on an entirely true story (and after doing some additional research, I was delighted to find that the movie stays very true to the actual events of the “Big Eyes” scandal).
In conclusion, I recommend “Big Eyes” to Burton fans, art lovers, aspiring offbeat film critics and bored college students alike. Enjoyable, aesthetically pleasing, thought-provoking, “Big Eyes” is a worthwhile experience.