Tim Burton's latest, Big Eyes, tells the true story of 1950's-60's artist Margaret Keane and her relationship with then-husband Walter Keane in what is the director's first biopic since Ed Wood.
Though the film does explore Margaret's (Amy Adams) art and its popularity, the focus here is on how Walter Keane's (Christoph Waltz) appropriation of his wife's work changed her life in a time when women had little say. After Margaret allows Walter to take all the credit for her big eyed creations (despite a clear initial reluctance), the become something of a sensation and the couple's lifestyle improves radically over the course of only a few years but the cost of giving up her artistic rights become too much for Margaret who is soon forced to live a lie. Tim Burton directing Ed Wood made perfect sense: a big fan of horror and sci-fi B-movies, the man behind the likes of Sleepy Hollow and Mars Attacks! wanted to pay homage to another hugely enthusiastic and creative, if doomed to failure despite an eventual cult following, character. With Big Eyes, Burton is paying homage to an artist for whom, like himself, the eyes are a key artistic component. Anyone who's seen an animation or a sketch by Burton will see the link instantly.
Ed Wood captured the spirit of the "worst director of all time" through a sharply funny, heartfelt script, the spot-on recreations of Edward D. Wood Jr.'s low-budget films and through merging those with Burton's own sensibilities and style. While Big Eyes does tell Margaret Keane's story with heart and laughs, and it is a worthy story to tell as it brings up interesting themes and the character of Walter is a fascinating eccentric, Burton himself seems to be mostly absent. There are a handful of admittedly Burtonian moments, a perfect sequence involving Margaret picturing the people around her with big eyes particularly stands out, but one wishes that the director's voice could have been heard more. As it stands, pretty much anyone else could have made this movie the way it is. Even Danny Elfman's score isn't all that unique and memorable.
That said, Big Eyes is definitely a well made film and is better than most mainstream biopics out there, skilfully avoiding any pretentiousness, something which films about art tend to fail at. Amy Adams gives yet another brilliant and different performance which rings true, the actress metamorphosing herself into yet another off-beat yet completely likeable character and proving once more that her bland Lois Lane in Man Of Steel was a fluke. Christoph Waltz, meanwhile, is on full-on Christoph Waltz mode, giving an endearingly over-the-top performance throughout, almost veering into the cartoonish but not quite. He's mostly very funny and you can see why Margaret would fall for his charms but you can also see why she'd be scared of him and feel trapped. The supporting cast works well also, though Jason Schwartzman feels wasted on a one-dimensional character with little screen-time and the bearer of a pretty sizeable plot-hole.
Burtonites should not exactly expect "Tim Burton's Big Eyes" but should give the director's latest a go if only to listen to Margaret Keane's story and ponder about the idea of art as a part of one oneself. The leads are also well worth it and, while not essential viewing, Big Eyes remains a tightly-made flick with some great moments.
Eye enjoyed it.