It seems like though Tim Burton’s career, he has mastered the bizarre, whether he is making a gothic movie or not. From Batman and Edward Scissorhands to Sleepy Hollow and Alice in Wonderland, you know what you are getting from a Burton picture. There will be fantastical moments, hints of gothic themes (or more) and a very macabre atmosphere. That has created a huge legion of followers but has also pushed away many viewers who have tired of his shtick.
For the fans who have tired of Tim Burton movies, his latest film Big Eyes, is the most un-Tim Burton-like movie the director has ever made. Yes, there is at least one moment where Burton throws in his odd sensibilities, but this movie plays fairly straight and you would never know that Burton made this movie if you weren’t told ahead of time.
Big Eyes is a biopic about artists Walter Keane and his ex-wife Margaret. For those unfamiliar with the name, Walter Keane was credited with painting the popular paintings of children with huge eyes that were hugely popular in the 50s and 60s. However, in 1970, Margaret sued Walter, claiming that she painted all the big eyes paintings, and when she took him to court, she painted for the jury while he refused and won a $4 million settlement. Walter Keane died penniless and Margaret is still alive, and painting, today at the age of 87.
Big Eyes is Margaret’s story.
The movie starts with Margaret (Amy Adams) leaving her husband, with her daughter in tow and heading to San Francisco to try to make it on her own. After she gets a job at a furniture company painting pictures on baby beds, she meets Walter (Christoph Waltz) while displaying her art in a park. He is also displaying his art, which is mostly paintings of streets in Paris, and the two go on their first date. When Margaret’s husband tries to regain custody of their daughter because – in those days – a single mother was not fit to raise a child, Margaret and Walter married.
For most of the early years of their marriage, they were loving and supported one another completely. However, after a misunderstanding at an art show where Walter was mistaken as the artist who painted his wife’s big eyes paintings, he took credit and soon the paintings were all the craze. While ignored by the world of art galleries (displayed by the rejection by art gallery owner Jason Schwartzman) and the art snobs who wrote critical pieces in the newspapers (played with delicious snobbery by Terence Stamp), Walter realizes they can make more money than ever by selling the paintings in grocery stores, as posters, and in coffee table books.
With success came deceit and paranoia and Walter grows from being a loving husband to a controlling and short tempered jerk. Christoph Waltz was fantastic in his role as Walter, someone who is naturally charismatic and he takes the character through his peaks and valleys perfectly. Honestly, this role is further proof that Waltz is one of the best actors working today and deserves more than just European bad guy roles. Yeah, he is the bad guy in this film, but there is so much going on under the hood that he creates a character that is more frightening that the generic baddies he has been stuck with lately.
Amy Adams is good, but there are many times where she overdoes it. Honestly, Adams seemed to be trying too hard throughout the movie and struggled to hold her own against Waltz. That really didn’t hinder the movie too much, but it was disappointing to see her stumble with such a juicy role.
At the end of the day, Big Eyes was a really good biopic that told Margaret’s side of the story. It was nice to see a photo at the end of the movie with Adams and Margaret sitting together and then remember that Margaret herself cameos in the movie early on.
However, at the same time, it seems that the script tried too hard to vilify people. The art critic was despicable and almost made the stage critic from Birdman look fair in comparison. The gallery owner played by Schwartzman seemed too snobbish as well. It just came as going too far with a movie based on a true story. I also think it could have done without the visions that Margaret began having of everyone around her having big eyes. That was just a Burton touch that didn’t need to be there.
Big Eyes is a really good biopic and my nitpicks really don’t hinder the enjoyment of the movie. I wish Amy Adams was better in her role, but Christoph Waltz was good enough for both of them. If you are wavering on seeing this because of Tim Burton’s name – this isn’t his film, it is Margaret Keane’s story and it was a great tale.