Big Eyes is the story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams). Married in the 1950s to Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), Walter became famous for his paintings of big eyed children, except the work was not his. For the better part of two decades, Walter passed Margaret’s work off as his own. The film follows her life from her first divorce until the public revelation of Margaret as the true author of the works.
Big Eyes is far and away the best film that Tim Burton has made in at least a decade. It takes awhile to get going, with a set up that is overly contrived with an unnecessary voice over that tries to make the film into something bigger and more important than it is. Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz also spend the first twenty minutes or so trying a little too hard to be likeable before they settle in and find their rhythm. Once Burton gets to the meat of the story when Walter starts to pass Margaret’s work off as his own, everything settles into place. Adams is perfectly cast, with her own big eyes exuding innocence and naivety that progresses to a steely determination. Waltz is also a perfect choice, oozing charisma and charm, but also capturing the smarmy, slightly psychotic side of Walter perfectly.
The film around the two central performances is solid. The story of Margaret Keane is an interesting one, especially from a feminist perspective, as she struggles to find her place as a mother, wife and most importantly as a painter. Burton’s visuals are aptly suited to Keane’s fantastical and slightly creepy style. He has taken a more subdued aesthetic approach than his more recent films, which is a blessing, but that slightly twisted style is still there. (Burton is an avid collector of Keane’s paintings and her influence is clearly seen in his work.) The film itself is gorgeous, just like a painting. Fortunately it also carries just enough meat to sink your teeth into while still maintaining a light fun touch.