Tim Burton is most famously known as the cuckoo creator to Johnny Depp’s eccentric actor, yet he quietens down the bizarre in Big Eyes to produce a film that proves he doesn’t need all the excess superficial stuff to make a solid addition to his filmography. It surely doesn’t hurt having Oscar worthy leads in Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, both of whom proving again why they are so sort after in the industry.
Set in the 1960’s, Margaret Keane (Adams) has just left her marriage and taken her young daughter to San Francisco, where she hopes to start anew. It is here she meets her soon to be husband Walter (Waltz), who is disarmingly charming and equally as scrupulous. Both Walter and Margaret are avid painters; he paints the streets of Paris while she paints waif life figures with huge distorted eyes. When interest in Margaret’s work grows, Walter seizes an opportunity to claim the work as his own, thus taking all the credit and accolades. At first Margaret goes along with it, standing by the wayside as Walter takes the show on the road, going on talk shows and generally just being an annoyingly smug con artist. Insiders of the art world, like gallery owner Ruben (Jason Schwartzman) and famed art critic John Canaday (Terence Stamp) cannot understand the allure of the paintings, but their lack of affirmation isn’t needed as the paintings sell left, right and centre. Walter reveals his true nature as the paintings earn more money and thus becomes more demanding and inconsiderate of Margaret not only as an artist but as a person. She realises that what her husband is doing is wrong, and a legal battle ensues that opens everyone’s eyes to who the true artist really is.
Adams and Waltz are a great pairing, and both relish the opportunity to act alongside someone that can match them in talent and execution. Waltz loves being the villain, you can see it in every line he delivers and every smirk he sends Adams’ way, and although he is brilliant, it sometimes comes off as just a little too cartoony, an obvious villain from the start that makes your skin crawl. But maybe that’s kind of the point? Either way, Waltz is and maybe always will be the perfect villain. Adams too is 1960’s housewife personified, a wallflower who speaks when spoken to so on and so forth. Her portrayal of the character is flawless as always, but the character herself was grating at times, to the point you just wanted to shake her and tell her to snap out of it. Perhaps that’s just the feminist in me, as I realise this is a film set in a different time and circumstance, but it was only towards the end of the film that an appreciation for the character really set in.
It’s good to see that there is more to Burton as a filmmaker then the Sweeney Wonka Scissorhands that we all know and love. He weaves together a great story with a simple approach, signifying that he doesn’t mask his lack of talent with all the eccentricity. There is still some ever present Burton flair, for instance the constant presence of famed artist and cuckoo bird Andy Warhol, reminding us of Burton’s appreciation for the left of centre people without actually overpowering the key story. This, along with a strong, clear narrative is a fantastic reminder that there is more to Burton as a director then most of us think, and is a substantial addition to an unconventional filmography.
Awards season has come and past and it is unfortunate that Big Eyes, like Keane herself, was overshadowed by other contenders and thus didn’t receive the accolades it should have. Big Eyes should definitely be added to the must watch list, regardless of your love of art, it’s an entertaining film that reminds us to be strong, and to be ourselves.