Sunday, January 4, 2015

Big Eyes: Movie Review


Going against the grain, “Big Eyes” finds success in the intersection between honest emotion and deceitful comedy.
Set in the 1950s and 60s, Big Eyes is the true story of Margaret Keane who painted sad children with big eyes. The subjects are sad and impoverished, and the story itself is how deception can utterly change one's life for the better or worse. But the movie tells the story comically and larger-than-life, after all, the eyes are big and the man behind the woman behind the art is larger-than-life. 2014

Directed by: Tim Burton

Screenplay by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski

Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz

Margaret (Amy Adams) moved to San Francisco in 1958 with only her daughter Jane and her paintings after leaving her ex-husband. She vowed to make it on her own, but the 50s were hardly a time for a woman to do that, and she also quickly discovered that gregarious ladies' man Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) was able to sell her paintings much better than she was. The whole opening was told very lightly, suggesting that harm could not possibly come to them (but we know better than that), and although there was a lack of humour to accompany that paradox, Margaret was an interesting person. She's very sure of herself but very apprehensive in the real world.

Soon enough, Margaret and Walter are married, and Walter's already selling her paintings, and he's already selling her paintings under his name. The middle portion of the movie was the success of the children with the big eyes, where Walter's larger-than-life persona gets even bigger, Margaret and Walter's lifestyle gets even more lavish, but Margaret is struggling internally with having lost authorship of her work. The mix of comedy with Margaret's dark internal troubles was handled well.

For a comedy, the film never reaches the comedic heights that it seems to be building to; however, it also never panders to your emotions. It's a fair compromise, but you'll need to be invested in the story and not in the entertainment. Amy Adams' quiet but determined portrayal of Margaret Keane earns the few tears she elicits. Waltz on the other hand is playing a character who is frequently described as “unsubtle” and he just keeps taking Walter to cartoonish heights until he's as far over the top as possible.

The most interesting elements of the film are all the juxtapositions: Margaret's understatedness vs. Walter's brash personality; the success of the paintings vs the intense criticisms from the art world, and my personal favourite, the whole reason Margaret marries Walter in the first place is to avoid going to court against her ex-husband just to end up going to court against her future ex-husband.

The final act is Margaret reclaiming her name and her life and the infamous trial. Director Tim Burton has had to defend it insisting that they toned it down from what actually happened, but Walter is at his ridiculous best (or worst, depending how you look at it) and is still insisting that he's the creator of the children of the big eyes, while Margaret has the truth on her side. Curiously (or not, considering how many juxtapositions are in the film), but the outrageous antics on display in the trial are done in a drab courtroom, shot without the bright colours that adorned the rest of the movie and without a score. All we have is Walter literally running around the room while the judge and jury sit unimpressed. It's an oddly funny ending to an oddly funny movie.

Similar Titles:

Birdman (2014) - Flying away from the weight of ego, success and celebrity with humour, intelligence and ambition.

Wild (2014) - A simple and beautiful journey through the wilds of California and the mind.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) - A beautiful, funny story that is just as smart as it is nonsensical.