Big Eyes is the most straightforward story told by director Tim Burton to date. With only accents of the Burton look-and-feel to a movie, Big Eyes is the true story of painter Margaret Keane and one of the most epic art frauds in history.
Big Eyes is a fascinating true story, but it is also a predictable story. Why was this film made? Maybe filmmakers Burton and writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wanted Keane’s story documented for posterity. Otherwise, her story may have passed history unnoticed.
Credit goes to the filmmakers for telling a good story. There is nothing inherently wrong with Big Eyes. There is nothing special in the way the story is told. Amy Adams plays the insecure artist, Margaret Keane. Margaret is a role Adams has played to perfection. Christoph Waltz (Walter Keane) plays the protagonist with ulterior motives flawlessly. But again, there are no surprises and you see the ending coming once the opening credit begin.
Tone is everything in this movie. The movie starts with Margaret and her daughter running from her first husband. As the saying goes, “Out of the frying pan into the fire.” Things never get better for our heroine. Almost immediately, Margaret marries a fellow artist, Walter Keane, who quickly sees potential in her art and becomes her biggest advocate. But you know that things are not as they seem. With warnings from best friend, Dee-Ann, played irresistibly by Krysten Ritter, Margaret chooses security over freedom.
The movie takes place in San Francisco during the 50’s and 60’s. Walter’s artwork is boring and Margaret’s “Big Eyes” portraits of children are strange, but strange enough to catch the eye of the public. Walter loves the spotlight, while Margaret lives in the background. With little thought, Walter takes credit for painting the “Big Eyes.” It is here that we learn Walter is a charismatic manipulator. Walter brilliantly turns Margeret’s “Big Eyes” painting into a popular sensation that would put Thomas Kinkade to shame. At the same time, convincing Margaret to perpetuate the lie and, at times, help write Walter’s “inspiration” story to the press.
Do you think you know how this will all end? Yes, you’re right. When telling a good story, life often has to hit rock bottom before it gets better and it does.
Also speaking of tone, this is by far Tim Burton’s brightest films. He uses a great deal of light, white colors and contrasts it with 60’s pastels. There are a few moments, when Margaret has panic attacks and manifests itself surreal Burton-esque moments. Big Eyes may not find itself near the top of the pantheon of Burton films, but it is a nice palette cleanser for his next movie.
Before seeing the movie, I had never heard of the artist Keane, nor seen any of her paintings. I’m glad to have seen her story, because this fascinating event during the early 60’s, might have gone unnoticed if not for passion of Burton to make it. It will find its home on endless loops on Pay TV.