Everyone, I’m about to shock you to your core. Big Eyes is a Tim Burton film and it is quite possible that the color black doesn’t appear once. Shades of greys and shadows, yes, but the Gothic trendings of the director are almost completely lost in this film. Except for the doe-eyed “Big Eyes” that the subject of the film, Margaret Keane, paints there’s almost no hint of Burton.
Yet it is a Burton film, through and through. Full of the weird and twisted story lines, trippy asthetics and slightly zonked out performance. It’s Burton turned real life, and it surprisingly works.
Director: Tim Burton
Release Date: December 25, 2014
Rounding out the “based on a true story” fare for Christmas (see: Selma, American Sniper, and Unbroken), Big Eyes tells the tale of “Big Eye” artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams). If you lived through the 50s and 60s you probably know who she is as her art work was everywhere and basically revolutionized how artwork was distributed and made money. There was great debate over whether or not her work, which featured small children with large sad eyes, was actually art or just kitsch. That isn’t what the film is about, though. The film is about how Margaret Keane’s husband, Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), took credit for her work for nearly two decades.
Now you’re interested, hug? What is so incredible about this story is just how incredible it gets. Bouncing from one unbelievable twist to the next and all of them entirely true. By the end of the film you’re simply stunned by just how great a conman Walter is. The star of this film is actually truth. It would be hard for any director to mess up a story that’s just this compelling and ridiculous.
Burton, however, does more with it. The story is so fantastical that his slightly otherworldly tilt to the proceedings lends it the perfect air. His characters push close to caricature levels, and yet seem right at home in the ridiculous story of the film. Waltz’s Walter Keane is especially ridiculous, yet disturbingly dark. This tempered back Burton is surprisingly adept at minutia and tone.
Burton does lose a little credit by avoiding some of the greater themes that surround the story. The focus is definitely on Margaret and the absurdity of the entire situation, and this leads to an avoidance of just how brilliant Walter Keane was at marketing himself (or his fake self) and the greater debate over what art is. The New York Times art critic who routinely tears down “Big Eyes” is too much of a stereotype to truly develop into a discussion on art. It’s too bad as the film could have had a lot to say on the subject as “Big Eyes” art is the perfect example of popular art that isn’t high art.
The movie even opens with a hint of the discussion forming with a quote from Andy Warhol, “I think what Walter Keane has done is just terrific. It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.” It’s a bold statement that says popularity makes art, but the movie never truly dives into this. Instead it is content to agree with the statement and carry on telling it’s story. Luckily it’s story is great so the lack of actual debate on the subject of art has a minimal effect, but it is definitely missing.
Big Eyes delivers an incredibly strange true story, with great help from two strong performances from Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. While it may not be the thought provoking picture it could have been, it’s still a stellar story to see. Burton dives head first into telling it with a passion that is clear. The story alone is interesting, what Burton does with it takes it to an even better place.