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Big Eyes—Movie Review

Christoph Waltz Amy Adams Big Eyes-2A 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. 

4 comments

  1. David B. Durand, M.D. says:

    There was an earlier version of the Keane story done as a black and white film, but the name escapes me. It was likely shown within the past year as a Turner Movie Classic. Can you identify the movie I’m talking about Leonard? Thanks.

  2. Brian J Corrigan says:

    *Man on the Moon

  3. mike schlesinger says:

    I think it’s worth noting that this was really a work-for-hire gig for Burton. The true "auteurs" are writer/producers Karaszewski and Alexander, who intended to direct as well but couldn’t get the funding. Having Burton direct it got them the dough, and Burton got a chance to prove he could still do a modestly-budgeted picture. Win-win.

  4. Romilios says:

    Burton is using his own extraordinary craftsmanship and artistry to tell a story of characters whose work others dismiss as trash.
    The outside world believed that Keane’s work was done by Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) when, in fact, his wife Margaret (Amy Adams) was responsible for everything.
    Big Eyes is gorgeously shot in widescreen colour. Margaret as portrayed by Amy Adams is pert, demure, and with blonde hair.
    Christoph Waltz is both funny and creepy as Walter, the real estate salesman trying to convince the world – and himself – that he is an artist.
    In Burton’s fantasy films, the visual style can sometimes seem overwhelming. Burton satirises his characters but does so with affection.
    Big Eyes pays attention to the role of the media in boosting the reputations of artists like Keane. One of the reasons the work sells is that the seedy local journalist (the film’s less than reliable narrator) Dick Nolan (Danny Huston) sees an angle in writing about it.
    The film shares the characteristics of swirling 1950s melodramas in which long suffering female protagonists played by the likes of Lana Turner or Joan Crawford overcome heartbreak and domestic upheaval to build themselves brave new lives.

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