Synopsis: A drama about the awakening of the painter Margaret Keane, her phenomenal success in the 1950s, and the subsequent legal difficulties she had with her husband, who claimed credit for her works in the 1960s.
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz
Release Date: 19th March 2015
One of the things you have to be careful with when you go into a movie is your expectations; expect too much and it will fall short, expect nothing and it could exceed. I’ll admit going in to watch Big Eyes I had high expectations after its many award nominations, and expectedly I was disappointed. Why though? Many reasons. This story is fascinating, and when I explain to people what it’s about they are always amazed- when you put yourself in Margaret’s shoes and imagine how terrified she would have been- it actually frustrates me that you don’t feel that from this movie. One of the issues is Christopher Waltz‘s depiction of Walter Keane- it comes across flamboyant and humorous diminishing the seriousness of the situation- he’s close to becoming a typecast character if he keeps repeating the same performance. The other issue was how bored I got of the interaction between Waltz and Amy Adams– it was all one long story of the same stuff repeating, with Adam’s character Margaret coming across as naïve and weak- this is an insult to what was an abusive relationship.
That’s not to say this is a bad movie- it’s refreshing to see Tim Burton taking a different direction to his usual style (Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Dark Shadows), and the look and style of the movie is on point- the story just falls short of what it deserves.
The story of Margaret and Walter Keane is fascinating. Margaret, an artist, married Walter Keane in 1955 and shortly after that, Walter began to take credit for Margaret’s works. Walter was violent, unstable and threatened Margaret into compliance until she escaped and came forward in 1970 via a radio broadcast where she said she was the real painter of the Big Eyes; a series of children portraits depicted with cartoonish, oversized eyes. Margaret sued Walter and the courts ordered them each to paint a portrait right there in the courtroom. Margaret finished her portrait in 53 minutes while Walter claimed an injured shoulder prevented him from painting at all.
The film, directed by Keane collector Tim Burton, doesn’t do justice to this fascinating, in-depth and compelling true story. While it obviously lacks the signature auteur style of Tim Burton in favour of a return to a more subdued style, and for good reason, it feels particularly over-the-top and light-hearted. Christoph Waltz is considerably disappointing, his portrayal of Walter Keane feels more satirical and sarcastic. He is too flamboyant, too buffoon-like and instead of seeing Walter Keane, I only saw Christoph Waltz, or rather, this SNL parodied Christoph Waltz.
Amy Adams is good as Margaret but she lacks depth and the inner-strength of the real-life Margaret Keane.
The film itself feels one-dimensional, a soft and washed-out watercolour compared to the deep, intricate and soulful paintings of the big-eyed children.