Tim Burton has, for the first time in 20 years, left behind the supernatural and returned to real life, and he has done so with the same writers who did Ed Wood, which I think is his best film. Big Eyes is not on that level, though it is another film about the fringes of pop culture.
Margaret (Amy Adams) is a single mother and struggling artist. At an art fair she meets the smooth talking Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), and she marries him in a whirlwind romance. Walter paints street scenes in Paris, while she paints waifs with saucer-sized eyes that, while disturbing, still manage to pull people in.
Eventually her paintings start to catch on and sell. Problem–he’s taking credit for them. Since this is set in the late ’50s and early ’60s, when women artists weren’t taken seriously, she agrees to the ruse (a priest tells her that she should obey her husband). Keane is a great publicist and marketer, and the paintings become world famous, leading to larges sales via reproductions. It’s a cottage industry that includes cups, dolls, and other bric-a-brac.
This can not stand, and she will soon break free of him, and when she asserts that she has painted every single one of the paintings, it all goes to court, where the judge hits on a sensible solution.
This is one of Burton’s least Burton-like films. Ed Wood, while telling a true story, still had enough weirdness that one could see Burton’s fingerprints. This is a much more straight story that ends up being about business and feminism. It’s a decent film, but without much in the way of uniqueness. A documentary might have been more informative
But of course a documentary would have denied yet another wonderful performance by Amy Adams. She is pitch-perfect here, as a woman making the brave decision to leave her (first) husband and try to be an artist, raising a child and living in the creative hot spot that was San Francisco. Unfortunately, Waltz does to Adams as an actor that Keane did to Margaret as an artist. He so overwhelms the picture with overacting that the weight of the performance grew tedious.
I do give the film a thumbs up, if only for Adams and the marvelous production design. It’s images that I’m left with, such as a suburb in northern California that looks a lot like the one in Edward Scissorhands, or a busy street in San Francisco. The climax in the courtroom is very well done, though it does give us a scene in which Waltz, representing himself, puts himself on the witness stand and hops up and down from lawyer’s table to witness stand. Woody Allen did that in Bananas.
As for the paintings, I faintly remember the Keane pictures’ popularity. They kind of set a model for other artists, ranging from Andy Warhol (he was a big fan) to Thomas Kinkade. An art critic, played by Terence Stamp, resolutely says they are not art, and I have to agree with him, but they certainly were a pop culture curiosity. I wouldn’t want one hanging on wall, though. I’d think it was always watching me.
My grade for Big Eyes: B-.