Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Jason Schwartzman, Krystal Ritter, Terence Stamp, Danny Huston
No wonder Burton was attracted to this; it’s a fascinating story.
We’ve all seen the paintings, those creepy, sad waifs with the oversized pupils. The “big eyes” prints – like their counterparts from Warhol’s factory, Pollack works, and copies from early 20th-century Russians like Kandinsky – were everywhere in the late ‘50s and 60s. These pieces were being mass-produced; people were no longer ashamed to frame cheap copies for their homes.
It was cataclysmic change in the art world, predicating huge jumps in modern art prices, the rise of pop artists as stars, and the birth of the art print business. That sort of seismic shift was also coming elsewhere – for women in the work world and the rights of single mothers. Unfortunately, for Margaret Keane, the world around her wasn’t quite there yet, still stuck in the1950s chauvinistic society.
Margaret (Adams) had just fled from one crappy marriage in 1954 when she met and married slick huckster Walter Keane (Waltz). Walter did for Margaret and her paintings what Pollack’s wife had done for his; they acted as agents shilling the artist to the public.
However, Walter did one further. Unable to sell his artwork, he pretended that Margaret’s paintings were his own. Tim Burton’s Big Eyes explained how this happened – how the couple kept the secret, subjugating Margaret while Walter grabbed onto the pop art zeitgeist and landed in gossip columns, magazine covers, and television talk shows lying about his wife’s works.
Big Eyes is one of Burton’s most heartfelt flicks, devoid of wonky quirks and plot holes that bless and plague his other films. Here and there, we see Burton’s touches, but these are slight. Because Burton has worked with writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski before – on Ed Wood – he seems to trust their script more than he has others’. The writers bring the same consistent joy they brought to Wood and their third great biopic The People vs. Larry Flynt.
That’s not to say that Big Eyes doesn’t have its small mistakes. Unfortunately, the brilliant Waltz is the biggest problem. His performance here is broad and comical in a way that doesn’t match the rest of the film. We’ve seen him do much more subtle, sly work than this “take no prisoners” approach. He’s so wild, one starts wondering how Adams’ Margaret could’ve ever fallen for him.
Besides that, there are some minor plot questions brought on by editing. Burton also uses Margaret Keane’s signature style to emphasize certain points. However, since this isn’t used consistently, one starts to wonder exactly this film trick means.
Mostly, this is Burton at his most understated and meticulous. The palette brilliantly mirrors the colors of Margaret Keane’s paintings. Without going too farfetched, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (Amalie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) finds angles that also call to mind Keane’s backgrounds. The music by Danny Elfman is a beautiful, almost constant companion. The costumes by Colleen Atwood are pitch perfect.
After a couple ho-hum live action films (Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland) Burton gently and deftly shows he can still make charming films without animation.