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by Jordan Canahai
Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, the new biographical drama about famed artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), follows her tumultuous relationship to husband, Walter Keane (Cristoph Waltz). Narrated in the third-person by Danny Huston’s newspaperman, the movie begins with Margaret as a 1950s housewife who separates from her first husband and moves with her young daughter to Los Angeles, where she gets a job at a furniture company while hoping to pursue her true passion of being a professional artist. One day she meets fellow painter, Walter, and finds herself charmed with his wit and stories of painting in the streets of Europe as much as he is won over by her portraits of children and the trademark big eyes they are all depicted with. They get married shortly after and for business reasons he begins passing her work off as his own (“People don’t buy lady-art” he says as justification). Margaret’s art soars in popularity as mass productions of the big eyed kids on posters and prints are sold across America, all while Walter takes the credit and becomes a national celebrity in the art world as a result. As Walter’s empire grows, so does Margaret’s heartbreak, leading to an ugly split and an infamous court case over who was the true author of the paintings.
Burton proves a fitting and inspired choice to bring Keane’s story to the big screen, as both he and his subject are pop artists from the American suburbs whose surrealist work and borderline kitsch sensibility’s unexpectedly broke through to the mainstream, while Keane’s struggles to balance both artistic and commercial success eerily mirrors Burton’s own path as a filmmaker. Like his other great period biopic, Ed Wood, his trademark style is perfectly tuned for bringing to life the story of lonely outsiders whose ability to express themselves through art is their saving grace, a theme that’s no doubt close to him, though this time the material carries a hard-edged feminist slant. This is his best work since Big Fish over a decade ago. Adams gives a wonderful and heartbreaking lead performance, never once striking a false note. She just may prove to be the greatest actress of her generation—every time she’s on screen I can’t take my eyes off her. Waltz continues to display his mastery of the sort of exaggerated performance style that has won him so many accolades in recent years as the megalomaniacal Walter, who’s just as charming in the film’s early scenes when he wins Margaret’s trust and affections as he is vindictive and manipulative in latter ones when their relationship turns abusive.
At times the movie’s turns to darkness in the final act does come off a bit forced (a scene late in the film where Walter chases Margaret and her daughter into her studio and proceeds to set fire to the house feels like it would be more appropriate for The Shining than this movie), as Burton’s sensibilities are best when he’s handling even the most melancholy of moments with a light sweetness. Despite those few awkward tonal shifts, however, Big Eyes proves a great success, at its best it’s as delightful a work as Keane’s iconic paintings.
Watch the trailer for Big Eyes
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