Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic Elements and brief Strong Language
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski
Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Jon Polito, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp, Madeleine Arthur & Delaney Raye
Tim Burton seems to have made the same type of movie for the past decade or so. This can be for better (SWEENEY TODD, FRANKENWEENIE) and for worse (CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, CORPSE BRIDE). BIG EYES is a refreshing non-Burtony Burton film. Though it’s based on a fascinating true story and was poised as a potential Oscar contender for 2015, BIG EYES went in and out of theaters at blink-and-you-missed-it speed. I was originally planning on covering the film when it was in theaters, but regrettably missed out. Having finally seen it, I am happy to say that BIG EYES is a near perfect delight and one of the most underrated films from last year. It also happens to be the best Tim Burton film since 2007’s SWEENEY TODD.
The time is 1958 and Margaret has just left her husband, moving with her daughter to San Franciso in the process. The single mother is a struggling artist who paints furniture by day and sells her artwork (paintings of big eyed children) on the weekends. At one of these art walks, she meets the charming Walter Keane. The two form a relationship. One thing leads to another and soon they’re married. The pair of Keanes display their artwork for sale at a beatnik night club. Through a misunderstanding, Margaret’s portrait of a big-eyed child is mistaken for Walter’s work. He takes credit and begins selling her paintings under his name. Though Margaret is understandably upset, she decides to go along with the lie because Walter has convinced her that nobody would buy “lady’s art” in this oppressive day and age. As years pass by and she watches as her hugely popular art is passed off as someone else’s work, Margaret struggles with the decision to reveal the truth and get out from under Walter’s thumb.
BIG EYES is based on an interesting true story and remains mostly accurate to the actual events. Some liberties have been taken in a couple of characters, one dramatic scene, and in scrunching the timeline up for a tighter running time. Aside from these elements, almost every plot point (even the most bizarre and unbelievable parts of this story) really happened. In fact, it’s been noted that Burton held back in one particular area: Walter’s insanity. It might initially seem hard to sympathize for someone who allowed themselves to be manipulated in the way that Margaret Keane was, but BIG EYES shows just how easily this whole situation spiraled out of control…much to Walter’s benefit and Margaret’s dismay. This is all driven by a really solid script that manages to tell the entire story in way that feels well paced, wholly entertaining and totally genuine.
Amy Adams is fantastic as Margaret, adopting a light Southern accent and a timid demeanor that eventually becomes a quiet strength. Christoph Waltz seems to have no problem playing a bad guy (including the mismatched villain in GREEN HORNET, the most evil Nazi in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, and a potential Bond villain in SPECTRE), but he plays a domestic delusional husband in Walter. Waltz exudes a charisma and class that few actors have today. It’s easy to see why Amy Adam’s character (or real person in this case) is attracted to him. We like him to an extent. His abusive attitude doesn’t fully register itself until later in the film, when he becomes all out over-the-top, manipulative, and monstrous…just like the real guy. As far as the supportive cast is concerned, Danny Huston plays a gossip writer, Terence Stamp is an art critic and Jason Schwartzmann is a gallery owner. Of this trio, Stamp is really the only one of any influence as he steals his few scenes and actually contributes to the plot in a big way. Huston is enjoyable in his part, but is also delivers unneeded voice-over narration. He is still utilized far better than Schwartzmann who merely serves as a modernist snob providing fleeting comic relief.
On technical aspects alone, BIG EYES looks great and sounds even better. Burton-regular Danny Elfman composed the score and did a fine job of it. Though it’s obvious that Burton used CGI and elaborate set dressing, the film feels like it’s a colorful version of the 1950’s and 60’s. In these stylistic choices, the movie feels ever so slightly like a Burton flick (mainly in the bright color scheme), but this is a far more human tale than he usually tells. It’s up there with ED WOOD as his best real-world film!
Though it may not have garnered much attention in spite of good reviews and a big name director/cast, BIG EYES is well worth your time. It’s an entertaining, emotional and uniquely stylish take on a remarkable true story. Boasted with top-notch atmosphere and great performances, this is one drama that will hook you from the very start and keep your attention. I highly recommend checking out BIG EYES. If you’re still interested after watching the film, you should also look up the true story and prepare to be surprised by how accurate the film actually is.