Big Eyes (2014)
written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
directed by Tim Burton
Big Eyes is one of those rare anomalies in Tim Burton’s filmography: It doesn’t feature comic book characters (1989’s Batman), it’s not an adaptation of a beloved children’s novel (2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 2010’s Alice in Wonderland), and it doesn’t take place in a fantasy world (1990’s Edward Scissorhands, 2005’s Corpse Bride). But it does continue his fascination with unusual real-life characters, much like his biography of director Ed Wood in the 1994 film of the same name.
In Big Eyes Burton focuses his attention on artists Walter (Christoph Waltz) and Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), a married couple who rode a wave of fame and fortune in the 1960’s as Margaret’s paintings of children with oversized eyes became wildly popular. The catch? Walter would sell them under his own authorship, never giving Margaret the credit she deserved. It wasn’t until the end of the decade that Margaret found the will to leave Walter and admit the coverup in a radio broadcast, eventually suing him publicly and winning the case.
It’s all effectively put together, particularly as Walter starts to believe his own importance and Margaret descends into self-pity and resentment. Yet the end result, while completely satisfying, feels oddly tame: Burton opts for light-hearted whimsy, never making us doubt that Margaret will find her confidence and receive the respect she longs for as an artist. A little more digging in the dirt would’ve made Big Eyes a more interesting study about the lies people tell each other… and the ones they tell themselves.
Carlos I. Cuevas