“Would you rather sell a $500 painting, or a million cheaply reproduced posters?”
Despite enjoying some of his films, I don’t consider myself much of a Tim Burton fan. Big Eyes however, doesn’t feel like one of his films considering it is a conventional biopic about a cult painter in the 50’s. The story is rather interesting because it centers on this perverse relationship between Walter (Christoph Waltz) and Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) who lie to everyone about the Big eyed paintings they sell. Walter convinces Margaret to let him claim he is the artist because he believes he can sell more paintings this way. This leads to a bizarre relationship where Margaret has to lie to her own daughter (Madeleine Arthur) and work secretly behind locked doors. Thanks to Walter’s personality he is able to turn the paintings into a popular craze and the couple make tons of money off of Margaret’s work. This may be difficult to understand now, but in the 50’s females were more repressed and despite not wanting to lie Margaret ended up allowing her husband to take the credit for her work. The screenplay was written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski who had already worked with Burton a couple of decades ago in his other biopic Ed Wood. Despite the rather shocking subject matter, they decided to turn this into a comedy of sorts and that aspect of the film didn’t work too well for me.
The cinematography in this film is very colorful. From the opening scene you are seduced by this striking blue and green scenery as Margaret drives through the coast of San Francisco. The film looks great, but the tone is what I had some issues with. Christoph Waltz portrays his character in a somewhat cartoonish way (especially during the court scenes near the final act), while Amy Adams is presented as a meek and weak character. In order for this story to work, I felt as if Waltz’s character should’ve been portrayed as less of a clown because it was hard to identify with Margaret since that made her look much weaker. It didn’t seem like it was fear that motivated her to lie about the paintings, but mostly because she allowed her husband to tell her what to do. This was probably true, but somehow it doesn’t translate well in our present situation. It should’ve been treated a bit more seriously, but that’s just my personal opinion. I also think that the ending was a bit rushed when it should’ve focused more on the later empowering aspects of Margaret’s life. Out of respect for the real Margaret Keane, at least they should’ve focused on the later years of her life when she found the courage to step up and confront everyone with the truth. But that was actually the moment where Waltz upped the comedy and went over the top. Waltz and Adams are great actors, but it is Adams who seems to take her role more seriously here. Terrence Stamp, Danny Huston, Jason Schwartzman, and Krysten Ritter have rather forgettable supporting roles. I could’ve appreciated some more of Schwartzman, but Stamp was at that same cartoonish level as Waltz was here.