So, wait? “Tracing” isn’t actually considered art? Bollocks!
After many years of putting up with an abusive relationship, Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) wakes her daughter up, packs their bags, gets in the car, and heads straight to the city of San Francisco, where she hopes to make a living with her odd, off-kilter paintings of children with largely-proportioned eyes. However, Margaret soon has a wake-up call when she realizes that selling paintings is not only hard if you don’t know how to sell them, or to whom, but also if you’re a woman who wants to be taken more seriously in the world of art. That’s when charming businessman, and occasional painter, Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) steps into her life and practically takes her, as well as her daughter, by storm. They get married and, wouldn’t you know it? The two start actually selling their paintings and gain some notoriety in the meantime. Except, that the paintings they’re selling aren’t just Margaret’s, but that they’re Margaret’s, being passed-off as Walter’s, and by none other than Walter himself. It’s an obvious dilemma, but one that falls into some strange, crazy places along the way.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been impressed by a Tim Burton movie. Most of that has to do with his over-bearing style that hasn’t been fresh since Sleepy Hollow, and some of that also has to do with the fact that the guy can’t seem to get enough of that bro-mance he has with Johnny Depp. But now, for the first time since 2003, Burton has stepped away from his life with Depp and seems to be getting back to his older, Ed Wood-ish days where he not only focused on real life, actual human beings, but give us a humane, relatively normal view into their lives. While it may sound ordinary and boring, for someone like Burton, that’s sort of the point. In order to show the world that you’ve still got the story-telling talent that made you so well-liked and appreciated before, sometimes, you just have to go back to the basics of what made you famous in the first place.
That’s why, after many years of disappointment, after disappointment, it seems like Burton’s back on-track. For how long, is a whole other question entirely, but for now, let’s just suck up Big Eyes for all that it is: A solid, well-told, and overall, well-done biopic about a very strange, but very true real life story.
Without diving in too deep and getting even myself lost in what I’m trying to say, I’ll just note that Big Eyes is a pretty-looking movie. Every set-piece feels and looks exactly like how the bright, lovely days and nights of the 50’s would feel and look, but that’s not what makes this movie to begin with. What mainly does it is the fact that Burton keeps his eye on the story here, as well as its characters, and hardly ever branches away from it. While one could say he’s doing himself a slight by holding back and telling this story as by-the-numbers as one could get, for someone like Burton, that isn’t a bad thing.
In fact, Burton shows resilience here that I haven’t seen from him in quite some time, and it works for the movie as it allows for this story to tell itself, and dive in deeper to some of the more interesting aspects of itself. For instance, the movie makes it clear that while there were many female artists successfully working in the 1950’s, most of them didn’t have the type of sales-pitch to certain people to not only make them rich, but well-known by more people than just their peers, but also by people who don’t usually pay attention to art in the first place. Mostly what Margaret Keane paints are creepy-looking children that’s meant to mean something, yet, what that something means, we never know.
However, that’s sort of the point Burton’s trying to drive home here – it’s not that the art is saying or doing anything spectacular, it’s more so that it was famous and sold really well to those who liked to impress their fellow friends and confidantes at fancy, extravagant dinner-parties. In other words, the art world is based on people’s bullshit and what’s sort of interesting about what this movie does is that it actually explores the notion that maybe that bullshit is exactly what somebody like Walter Keane thrived on. He loved the spectacle of art, and didn’t really care about whatever message it was trying to get across; simply, he just wanted it to make people happy. And for some reason, that’s what Margaret’s art: Made people happy, even if they didn’t know how or why. It simply just did.
But while Burton touches the surface of this idea, there’s a slight feeling that it doesn’t go down this road as much as it should. This makes sense considering how close the still-living Margaret Keane seemed to be during the making of this movie, but it also takes away from what could have been a very thought-provoking piece about the world of art, why it’s important, and just why someone like Walter Keane was able to exploit for all that it was worth, even if he didn’t mean to intentionally do so. However, like I said before though, Burton still keeps this story fun, light, and interesting, even if it seems like he’s just going by on what the time-line presents him with. That’s not a bad thing, per se, especially because the story itself is quite fun and interesting, but it made me wish there’d been more of a push and shove into actually developing these characters, as well as their situations just a bit more.
Though, to be honest, I’ll take a pleasant Burton-piece over another Johnny Deep team-up, any day of the week.
And I do wholeheartedly mean that, too.
Where Keane’s lives and personalities get the most attention are from the performances by Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams, who are both fine in this movie, even if they both seem like they’re in two different movies altogether. Waltz is probably the clearest example of this as his Walter Keane is all over-the-place – and I do mean that in the literal-sense. Right from when we’re introduced to him, we get the sense that Walter Keane is a bit of a sneaky fella who may be using Margaret for his own well-being, or may be a simple, nice guy who actually has an attraction to Margaret that doesn’t concern him seeing dollar-signs. Either way, the guy clearly seems to be off-his-rocker every time he is around other people and you never know whether or not it’s all an act to make himself seem likable, or he really is just this nutty, energetic of a bro.
The movie never fully hits a specific landing-strip on what it wants to say about Walter Keane, except that he was clearly the bad guy in this story. That said, Waltz is usually great at playing a bad guy in any story, and also even being able to bring out some humanity within as well. And that’s exactly what he does here as Walter Keane, except that he’s incredibly hammy and over-the-top, for better, as well as for worse. For better, because he actually brings a lot of fun and excitement to the character of Walter Keane who, from what I’ve read, was pretty much that kind of person in real life. And, for worse, because he seems to be trying his hardest to steal every single scene away from Amy Adams and her incredibly subtle performance. Though it’s always intriguing to see what rabbit Waltz is able to pull out of this character’s hat next, it mostly seems to take away from what’s a very powerful performance from the always great Adams, although you wouldn’t know it.
Adams down-plays her role as Margaret and does a fine job at it, so much so, that it actually makes it understandable as to why a meek, mild woman such as herself would actually marry such a hyperactive and wild charmer like Walter Keane. They aren’t the perfect match for one another, but they’re both there for one another in a time where they seem like they need someone the most; to love, to cherish, to hold, and to also pay rent. So yeah, to me, it made sense why Margaret would actually take a sacrifice in her life and marry Walter, even if that meant she’d be sacrificing a whole lot more than her time – her art. Art which, to begin with, was already nice and pretty to look at, but anything more would just be too much.
Hey, sort of like this movie! Wow!
Consensus: Oddly enough, Big Eyes finds Tim Burton at his most restrained and simple, yet, it works wholly because the real life story he’s covering is an odd and complex one, but also fun and interesting into the certain areas it goes.
8 / 10 = Matinee!!