A great life story can often trump anything a writer could imagine, and Big Eyes is the latest example. Scott
Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who wrote Ed
Wood, The People Vs. Larry Flynt, and
Man in the Moon, have scored again in telling the real-life saga of
Margaret Keane, the woman whose paintings of wistful, big-eyed children
blanketed America in the 1960s. The only trouble was that her husband Walter
took credit for the artwork while she cowered in his shadow.
Amy Adams adds another excellent performance to her formidable
résumé. It’s all the more impressive because of the character’s nature: how do
you convincingly portray someone who is so utterly repressed? Adams makes
Margaret a three-dimensional figure who earns our empathy. She was a product of
her time, a divorced single mother who didn’t dare to stand up for herself,
especially after meeting her bellicose, emotionally needy husband, played with
panache (and a chilling edge) by Christoph Waltz.
The real-life story of the Keanes is great fodder for
Alexander and Karaszewski, who apparently didn’t embellish the truth, and Tim
Burton (who directed Ed Wood twenty
years ago) has done a fine job bringing it to life. The look and feel of San
Francisco in the late 1950s and early 1960s are vividly realized by Burton’s
longtime production designer Rick Heinrichs, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, and
costume designer Colleen Atwood, with some artful use of CGI to seal the deal.
The setting and time period are vital ingredients in the story and no detail
has been overlooked.
Big Eyes is not a
movie with big ambitions; the less you know about the Keanes, the more
surprises lie in store for you. Burton treats this material in a meaningful but
straightforward fashion; it’s to his credit that he didn’t feel the need, or
urge, to inflate or distort the material to stamp the results as “a Tim Burton
film.” He might well be served by seeking out other scripts that pique his
interest but aren’t in his well-worn wheelhouse.