Out Now On-Demand
She created it, he sold it, and everyone bought it.
Tim Burton directs the biographical drama of painter Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), set in the 1950s. Follows her success as an artist, and eventual legal issues with her husband (Christoph Waltz) who takes credit for her work in the 1960s. From the scriptwriters of Ed Wood, Man on the Moon and The People vs. Larry Flynt.
Best Actress (Comedy/Musical) for Adams, Golden Globes 2015
Enough is enough. No more easy passes for filmmakers who succeed in finding a fascinating real life story. Well done on the research and contract signing and all that, but the thing is, we’d also like you to deliver a good film.
For it would be easy to recommend Big Eyes based on its extraordinary tale alone. In the 1950s and 60s Margaret Keane’s paintings featuring big eyed girls became famous. They defied old school sensibilities but appealed to the new pop art world. To pacify some conservatives, her husband Walter claimed to be the artist – and she let him – losing her identity in the process. This is her story.
It’s a brilliant tale. But this is far from a brilliant film.
Tim Burton takes the helm in a surprising departure from his trademark style of fantastical tales, and it seems it was a step far too far. Shorn of his own madcap visual styling, his storytelling is left to stand naked and far too exposed for its faults.
Amy Adams plays Margaret Keane and does admirably to drag a character out of a script that casts its hero as a perpetually helpless victim. Her film is a tragedy. Meanwhile Christoph Waltz has been cast in an entirely different movie, playing some bizarre PT Barnum-turned-psycho clown in a bizarre comedy.
The result is a mess that careens from beat to beat never settling on a style, a rhythm or a genre. So yes, Margaret Keane’s is an amazing story. Look it up. Then look up another film – any other film – on at the cinema this week.
Total Film (UK)
Time Out London
The tale of domestic abuse behind one of the biggest art frauds in history.
A good bio-pic tells more than just the story of an interesting person. It portrays them in the broader context of their era in ways that offer insight into human nature. Among the most recognisable motifs of the 1950’s are paintings of mournfully cute children with exaggerated large round eyes. They became known as the ‘big-eyed waifs’ created by artist Margaret Keane who is still painting at 89 years old. The film Big Eyes (2014) is a true story of the emotional violence and domestic captivity that lay hidden behind one of the biggest art frauds in history. It is also a moving tale of how these immensely popular artworks started as expressions of the artist’s pain but came to symbolise her personal triumph.
When we first meet Margaret (Amy Adams) she is packing her bags to flee a stifling marriage. She settles in San Francisco and gets a modest job painting pictures on furniture, but her artistic passion is painting children stylised with huge eyes. One day she is swept off her feet by a self-promoting extrovert and painter Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) and they soon marry. His paintings are ignored while her artworks attract attention but the shy Margaret is not good at selling whereas Walter is a natural salesman. On the first occasion, he is mistaken as the artist by an interested buyer and the deception proves profitable. Despite Margaret’s misgivings, the ruse becomes the business model with Margaret secretly painting while Walter claims the credit from an increasingly voracious public who were prepared to pay good money for the ‘big-eyed waifs’. He becomes a celebrity and they enjoy their new wealth, but Margaret is psychologically burdened by the deception. Walter becomes increasingly paranoid and controlling to the point where she must flee again for her safety. Margaret keeps sending paintings to Walter to get his agreement to a divorce, but soon the burden of the lie becomes too much and she goes public. Walther declares that she is mad and the celebrated case was settled in court when the judge issued an impromptu order requiring both Walter and Margaret to paint a ‘big-eyed waif’ right there in the courtroom. The truth was immediately obvious.
This is an interesting and engaging film on many levels. It is a factual account of a multi-million-dollar art fraud that was committed not by professional criminals but by accident and chance. It was perpetuated because a talented woman was seduced by an unscrupulous conman who turned abuser, keeping his wife under lock and key to safeguard the secret. It is also a poignant story of an artist who painted over-sized mournful eyes through which her painful life was seeking expression. It is a bio-pic with little dramatic embellishment. Amy Adams plays the role of domestic-abuse victim with understatement and almost waif-like wide-eyed naivette. Christoph Waltz perhaps is not ideally cast for this role as his signature persona of predictable evil commences at too high a pitch but must keep rising to maintain dramatic tension. By the time they reach court, he plays an unconvincing ranting psychotic in a performance that is almost comical.
Big Eyes does more than tell the story of the Walter and Margaret Keane. The cinematography, period sets and fashion captures the culture and style of the era. It reflects the history of women’s role in the pre-feminist era when they were assumed by nature and law to be possessions of their husbands. In recent interviews, Margaret confessed that going public was a “spur of the moment” act and she never could have imagined wilfully confronting her husband like she did. Since then, many of her big-eyed waifs have shown almost imperceptible hints of a smile.
Worst Tim Burton film
I really don't want to see these paintings...