Posted December 25, 2014 by Daniel Hodgson in
It’s colorful, mature, and thoughtful—it has a lot on its mind. Easily one of Tim Burton’s best films.
You don’t buy a painting. You buy a Picasso, or a Warhol. For a time, nobody bought a Keane, until everybody did.
Big Eyes tells the true story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), who painted portraits of young children, portraits distinguished by their exaggeratedly large, expressive eyes, haunting and often filled with sorrow.
Her husband Walter was the front-man for their operation. She painted, and he sold them, claiming they were his own work. Together, they amassed $17 million during the late 50’s and early 60’s.
Big Eyes points out how Margaret needed Walter. Art doesn’t sell itself. It needs promotion, awareness, and importance. Who better to sell it than the artist himself—or at least, someone claiming to be the artist. Artists are often fascinating figures, eccentric, opinionated, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, or all of the above. It is not enough for a painting or a sculpture to be aesthetically pleasing. You buy the art because of the artist, because they are interesting people.
But what if that wasn’t the case? What if the artist was a wallflower, who rambles about trivialities in conversation. It would never sell. Walter, however, knew how to hold the spotlight, and portray the artist everyone wanted. Waltz is delightfully theatrical as Walter. He chews the scene, and savors every bite. Waltz looks like he’s having the time of his life, and truly, he’s a joy to watch.
Meanwhile, Margaret looks on as adoring fans praise her husband for her paintings, each one a personal expression of herself that she must deny as her own to her friends, the general public, and even to her own child, (portrayed by Delaney Raye and then Madeleine Arthur). Big Eyes is melodramatic, and purposefully so, as we’re meant to pity Margaret for her social isolation and the gnawing guilt she feels for her part in the deception—even if she profits from it handsomely; the pair go on honeymoon in Hawaii, and buy a spacious, luxurious house for themselves. Sorry. No sympathy here, girl.
The deception, however, makes for interesting scenes. At any moment, in any conversation, the jig could be up, and the potential for either of them to be caught in a lie creates tension.
Big Eyes isn’t your usual Tim Burton movie. It’s neither dreary-looking nor whimsical. It’s colorful, mature, and thoughtful—it has a lot on its mind. For a film about pop-art, it’s his least commercial film in years and most personal. It comes across as a film about himself at times, an admission of a director who had repeated himself one too-many times, like Keane and her Big-Eyed portraits, produced en-mass. This one feels new, fresh, and is easily one of his best films.