Artist Margaret Keane’s paintings of children with big eyes become wildly popular, but her husband Walter steals all the credit.
Tim Burton, 2014
After taking her daughter and leaving her husband, Margaret (Amy Adams) supplements her income by selling her big-eyed paintings at fairs. At one such fair she meets Walter Keane (Christolph Waltz), a charming, charismatic man who uses his big personality to sell his French street scenes. A few weeks after they meet, Walter proposes to Margaret and they are married in Hawaii. Walter hustles to sell their work in a variety of places, eventually taking responsibility for painting Margaret’s work in a misunderstanding that blossoms out of control. Walter’s pressure on Margaret to go along with the ruse escalates, and Margaret struggles with how to deal with the lies she’s telling her daughter and the world.
Big Eyes really gives Tim Burton a chance to prove his directing chops outside of what’s become his signature style. Big Eyes is an intense, focused film that tells an uncomplicated story about complicated people. It allows for the performances to shine, and with two Oscar favourites in the leads, those performances shine bright. Adams and Waltz play wonderfully off each other, whether flirting or fighting, and the movie bristles with their chemistry. Waltz embodies the contradictory Walter perfectly, but it’s Adams who brings the emotional weight to the movie, making the sensitive Margaret relateable even at her worst. The casting of the two girls who play Margaret’s daughter Jane is excellent too. There’s a sense of reality to this family and what they’re going through, in spite of how ludicrous the secrets may seem. The movie runs a little slow occasionally, but generally the slow build works very well, leading to an emotional height and then a catharsis that feels well earned.
The entire movie is also just gorgeous. The sun-soaked landscapes in California and Hawaii are lush with bright colours. There is a constant contrast between the warmly lit Margaret and Walter, always shrouded in shadow, his true motives obscured. The use of space is wonderful, too. The movie lacks the usual Burton quirks in most places, and his one strange creative touch is used to excellent effect: occasionally, when the guilt is threatening to overwhelm her, Margaret sees big eyes on the people around her. It only happens three times in the film, but it’s appropriately jarring, reflecting Margaret’s psychological state at that point in the film. The costumes are well done (it’s particularly satisfying to watch the always excellent Krysten Ritter swanning around in early 60s garb looking like she was born into it). It can be a confronting story at times, given the subject matter, but Burton keeps the tone light. It’s a really strong feminist film that deserves much more recognition than it got.
Big Eyes on IMDb