For fans of Tim Burton, Big Eyes might seem like a major departure from his normal style since it is just that—normal. There are no demon barbers, no corpse brides, no Beetlejuice, nor any other fantasy elements. It is the true story of a woman emotionally, artistically, and socially suppressed by her husband who is trying to steal all her glory. With some fantastic performances, a beautiful color palate, and a fascinating story, Big Eyes is a fine film that still has its flaws.
Back in the late 50s and early 60s, artistic women were extremely suppressed. When Margaret moves out of her husbands house to start life anew in San Francisco, she struggles with finding a job because she is a single mother in a mostly male run world. One day she meets Walter Keane, who appears to be a great artist who knows how to market his work, and the two fall in love and marry rapidly so as to allow her custody of her daughter. Margaret’s paintings of little children with, well, big eyes, start to sell fast but Walter takes the credit. Once their lie has grown they must maintain it despite the immense psychological toll it has on Margaret.
Amy Adams gives a very understated yet enormously potent performance. She is suppressed for most of the movie; her lie reduces her life to essentially being a slave for her husband who forces her to crank out paintings in order for him to take the glory. Adams continues to prove that she is one of the best actress’ working in film today, and her arch is one of triumph and determination despite the years of manipulation.
Christoph Waltz, who plays her husband Walter, is fantastic as yet another silver-tongued devil who is deceptively manipulative and dominant. He is greedy, arrogant, and a liar whose tales he’s weaved go back decades. When we first meet him he seems lovable and sensitive to Margaret’s situation, but once his lies come out we see him for what he really is, and Waltz proves to us that he can play the meanest guy around but also be so charming to those he is trying to manipulate.
While the two leading performances are very strong, the supporting actors that include Jason Schwartzman, Krystin Ritter, and Danny Huston, do not get more than a few minutes of screen time each and do not offer up much in means of carrying the story forward. They seem cast aside amongst the bigger drama that is occurring which makes them feel a little like wasted space. When it comes to what is lacking from its examination of its main character, we only get a little bit of backstory on the actual inspiration for her artwork that takes centerstage in the film, which makes us wonder throughout the entire film where Margaret really got the idea to paint only children. Little details about her past, like these, would have better flushed out her complex character.
Burton has always had a great sense of color, and Big Eyes is no different. Drawing on the beautiful palate of Keane, the film is bursting with beautiful colors. From the aquamarine waters of Hawaii, to the nostalgia-inspiring colors of the 60s automobiles, and of course to the paintings of Keane herself, the film is a pleasure to look at.
In the end, Big Eyes is unlike any Burton film seen yet, and some might want him to continue with these less fantastical tales. He has proven to be able to draw some great performances out of characters, but unfortunately the writing could not be a little better. So, if you’re a fan of Keane’s art, or are looking for a film that that will teach you of a time when women could hardly get anywhere in life, and art, without the assistant of a man, then Big Eyes will really open your eyes to the control imposed on a woman with a really unique vision.