Everybody knows those Big Eyes paintings that are some of the most highly successful and most reproduced pieces of art ever. But what you might not know is that Margaret Keane was not originally the person credited with painting them. That journey from veiled lie to empowering truth is captured in Tim Burton’s Big Eyes.
It is Burton’s best work in years and it is probably because it is a subject matter with which he feels innately close to.
As teased in the Big Eyes trailer, Margaret (Amy Adams) was a single mother who recently left an abusive relationship. She would land in San Francisco and try to make a living selling her unique paintings featuring characters with the most extraordinary bountiful eyes. It is there that she would meet Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a man who fancies himself quite the artist as well.
They would fall in love and get married quite soon after meeting. This is the '50s and as Margaret says, this is not a world where women who are divorced get ahead. She has a daughter to think about and besides, Walter is charming, caring and can provide for her and her daughter.
When he strikes a deal to showcase their paintings in a local jazz club, something happens (fate is a funny thing) and suddenly everybody and their mother wants a copy of Margaret’s work. The only issue, Walter has claimed that they’re all his and once they become an international phenomenon, Margaret goes along with it because of the enormity of their wealth, and also, the enormity of the lie.
The Keane story would become one of the biggest scandals to rock the art world. When she sued to get her name back on the paintings (and thus the royalties that came with it), it was front page news a half century ago.
That’s what makes Burton’s latest film so compelling. We know those paintings and we know Margaret Keane, but we had no idea what Margaret had to go through to make sure a right triumphed over a wrong.
Burton paints a picture himself that is unlike any other Burton film. The art of Margaret is, in many ways, very Burton-esque. So, there is no need for the director to do anything out of the ordinary with characterization or production design. The story can speak for itself and yet it is still very much a Tim Burton movie.
And don’t get us started on the score by Danny Elfman. It is unlike anything he has done prior either!
Adams is incredible, although it is not her best role we’ve seen. She is perfect for Margaret, and manages to bring the struggle of a generation of women to life beautifully and with honor. Waltz is able to play the bad guy (which he does so well -- he’ll be in the new Bond movie Spectre as such), but with it dialed back quite a bit in Burton's movie. This is a case where his “villain” bears that title in actions only.
Our Big Eyes review finds that we cannot wait to see Burton make more movies like this. It so has his hand prints all over it, but does not hit you over the head with it.