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BIG EYES (review)

Review by Clay N Ferno
Produced by Tim Burton, Scott Alexander, 
Larry Karaszewski, Lynette Howell
Written by Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz,
 Danny Huston, Jon Polito, Krysten Ritter, 
Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp

Set in the sixties, Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, is based on the life of artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) and her shyster husband, Walter (Christoph Waltz). This is a sidestep from Burton’s previous work while still maintaining some of his signature weirdness. Supporting cast includes Jason Schwartzman, Krysten Ritter, Terence Stamp, Danny Huston and a host of others.

The title comes from Margaret’s ‘waif’ paintings, you’ve seen these and knockoffs for years, perhaps in your grandma’s sitting room.

The unfortunates look sad and look through you, and Big Eyes means to set the record straight about who is behind the brush.

I’m surprised at the PG-13 rating for this one, as the subject matter is tame and a bit of a departure from what you might expect from a Tim Burton movie. Other reviewers have been comparing this to 1994’s biopic Ed Wood. Needless to say, where Burton shines are in locations where you may expect to see him — in Halloween Town or Wonderland. The only real fantasy we get is in the supermarket where everyone is taken over by Big Eye syndrome among 60’s pop art exaggerated product branding straight from the cover of The Who Sell Out.

The styling, costumes and the set pieces are very much of the time — we’re trained to expect a certain throwback to the same era after seven seasons of Mad Men — and the overall palette of the picture is as bright as you may expect.

The movie opens with Margaret leaving her former life and husband to head to San Francisco.
Margaret and Walter meet selling paintings at an outdoor art fair with her young daughter Jane in tow. Jane is the model for most of Margaret’s ‘Big Eye’ paintings, and after some courtship, the two move in together.

Walter is not a great painter but is a charming man when it comes to business. After exhibiting his Parisian street scenes along side the ‘waifs’ in a local bar, the public attention was always on the waifs. Since the couple had now married, both were signing their name ‘Keane’ to the work. Walter gets caught up in a lie that he relished in — claiming to have painted the waifs himself.

Whereas previously in the film, Walter had pitched his work to avant-garde gallery owner Ruben (Schwartzman) he was being rejected. By appealing to the pop-art masses with his new product, Ruben represents the art world as he sits by and watches Walter Keane become somewhat of a rock star and open his own gallery with ‘his’ own works.

The family secret remains so for most of the film, even lying to their daughter Jane and keeping her out of Mommy’s attic studio. The money was rolling in, and as was the case in those days, Adams plays the near perfect subservient housewife when not producing canvas after canvas of the waif paintings.

Waltz’s Walter revels in the attention and accolades from many magazine and newspaper features (he garnered special attention at the local paper from gossip columnist Dick Nolan played by Danny Huston) as the creator of the waifs. Once the paintings caught on, the family was making money hand over fist and opening their own gallery it was near to late to set the record straight about which Keane was the painter. In fact, it had to stay a dark lie for Margaret to sit with.

Burton is a huge fan of Keane’s paintings, so it is easy to chalk this up to and believe that this was a passion project for him, perhaps setting the record straight for the masses about this incredulous artistic injustice.

The true strength of the film might not be the message it carries, though it is a thoughtful comment on misogyny and men taking power from women (and the righteous reversal of that)!

My favorite part of Big Eyes are the performances. The only time the audience might feel placated or judged is by the over-the-top goatee’d Schwartzman who is only a beret and an ascot away from being 100% cartoon. And you know what — that’s probably intentional and it just makes me miss Bored To Death.

Big Eyes is not the Burton you are expecting, but still is enough of a distraction to justify a family trip to the movies or holding out an eventual pizza and Redbox night.

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