Margaret Keane has always drawn children with big eyes. The eyes are the windows to the soul – you can see their deepest hopes, dreams and fears reflected back at you. Those children were an extension of her being, so why did she let someone else take credit for them?
Big Eyes is reviewed after the jump.
In 1950s California, artist Margaret (Amy Adams) fled an unhappy marriage, and with her young daughter resettled in San Francisco. She quickly meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a local painter who sweeps her of her feet with his charm, promise of security and appreciation for her work. The pair marry soon after and Walter appoints himself as Margaret’s promoter as well as husband. When a customer mistakes Walter as the artist of one of Margaret’s “big eye” paintings, he fails to correct them; in fact he relishes in taking credit for his wife’s creation. Thus begins the lie that grew into a monster and almost broke Margaret.
Burton is a collector of Margaret’s work, even commissioning her to paint a portrait of then-girlfriend Lisa Marie-Presley in the 1990s. He’s clearly a huge fan, for although her work is slightly quirky, this is a far more vanilla story than Burton usually tells. It’s refreshing to see a live action film of his without Depp in costume at the lead and I must say aside from the animated Frankenweenie (which I really liked), this is Burton’s best directorial effort in many years.
The film sides you with Margaret early on. You feel she’s brave for leaving her first husband and starting a new life. Walter seems like a good match for her to begin with, but pretty soon you feel suffocated. His poisonous charm is snake-like, and as Margaret is forced to go along with the lie of Walter being the big eye artist, it squeezes the life out of her. Adams is wonderful as Margaret, but I found Waltz a little over the top here. It’s hard to separate his performance from the hollow character he was portraying, but it really felt like he was Acting with a capital ‘a’. Watch out for Jason Schwartzman in a small, but hilarious role as a smarmy modern art gallery owner.
The story is captivating, particularly due to both the scale of the lie and the length of time it was perpetrated for. It’s really amazing what fear can do. Margaret, who was so brave in leaving the first time, couldn’t find that same strength when Walter changed into a man she was trapped by, rather than protected by. I think this mostly came down to her desire to provide for her daughter and not wanting them to flee without prospects again. It’s amazing what a mother will do for their child, and we see this adage proven again later in the film.
Big Eyes covers events which occurred over a 15 year period and as such it had to make a number of time jumps. Unfortunately, the film isn’t always successful in transitioning between these time periods smoothly. The editing in general is the greatest flaw of the film, with a number of scenes suffering due to the clunky editing. There is one sequence which starts with a friend visiting Margaret and Walter’s home,and ends with that friend being thrown out. The editing doesn’t show the progression of their interactions or show what the eventual tipping point in the evening was – you’re left to fill in the rather large blanks. As an audience member, it’s rather unsatisfying.
The film does a wonderful job of capturing the 50s-60s era San Francisco, with its vibrant colours and alternative vibe. The costumes and make-up are a stand-out of the film and firmly plant you in the era. I’m glad Burton did something different, and for the most part Big Eyes is very enjoyable film. Let’s hope there are more Depp-less films to come from him – I think we’ve got a lifetime of those to keep us going.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Tim Burton
Writer(s): Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman
Runtime: 106 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: March 19 2015