Wednesday, December 31, 2014

'Big Eyes' review

Tim Burton has been on a downward spiral for the last few years, making an eclectic mix of films that critics have definitely not warmed to. His 2010 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland is atrocious, but was a huge box office hit. However, Dark Shadows was a massive flop and sent Burton's career into shambles. The famously eccentric director has now bounced back with the small, interesting and bizarre film, Big Eyes. The movie tells the story of Margaret and Walter Keane, two artists responsibly for the kitschy "big eyes" paintings that were popular in the 1960's. This weird and emotional tale of lies and betrayal works because of the terrific performances by Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz and the strong directorial eye of Burton. In an Oscar season filled with dark, intense biopics and character studies, Big Eyes stands out by being just a little bit more fun.

Big Eyes tells the story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), a divorcee who walks out on her husband and moves to San Francisco with her daughter. She gets a job working at a factory and sells her paintings on the side. One day at an art show, she meets the charismatic Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz). The two artists strike up a relationship and end up getting married. Walter recognizes potential in Margaret's "big eyes" paintings and uses his terrific likability to get her art sold. However, it comes at a price. Walter takes credit for all of Margaret's art and creates a lie that only grows and grows. Soon, Walter's manipulation and control takes over Margaret's life and creates a world of fear. Is money and power worth it if you have to live a lie to get it?

What initially sounds like a fun premise ends up being much darker than you would expect. Margaret Keane is a fascinating character and one that is brought truly to life by Adams. I'm honestly dumbfounded that her incredible performance isn't getting more attention. Adams portrays Margaret as a weak and damaged individual, and you feel good once she gives Walter his comeuppance and becomes her own person. It's a true character arc and Adams fully embodies Margaret.

Waltz also is terrific as Walter, creating a sleazy, despicable character that actually manages to be very interesting. Big Eyes seems to make the point that the art wouldn't have been successful without Walter's elaborate lie and incredible charisma, but then makes the claim that the lie wasn't worth the success. It's intriguing to think about and I enjoyed the fact that the film brought up questions like that. It made the film much more engrossing.

The supporting cast is rounded out by fantastic actors like Jason Schwartzman, Krysten Ritter, Danny Huston, and Terence Stamp, who do what they can with limited roles. Ritter is sweet and charming as DeeAnn, Margaret's helpful friend who is always looking out for her. Stamp is basically playing himself in this film, with a delightfully serious voice and exaggerated body movements. His character (critic John Canaday) doesn't add much to the movie, but it gives a little bit of insight into Walter's character. And Schwartzman is a lot of fun as Ruben, the uptight gallery owner who rejects Walter and his work.

Where I run into my biggest problem is with Danny Huston's character, Dick Nolan. He's a newspaper writer and a friend of Walter, but he also provides voiceover at various times during the movie. I guess he's supposed to be the audience's "in" to Walter and Margaret's world, but unfortunately, it was one of the few things that didn't work for me in this movie. The narration isn't consistent and his character only pops up occasionally and seems to serve no real purpose to the plot.

The script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski is also very fun and witty, highlighting both the highs and lows of Margaret's relationship with Walter. They did a great job of developing the two characters and making you understand why Margaret did what she did. You'll probably still ask questions at the end, but for the amount of time they had, I thought Alexander and Karaszewski did a fabulous job. The film also moves at a brisk pace throughout, yet still manages to feel a little bit long at 105 minutes, especially towards the end of the film.

Big Eyes is an engrossing film because of its story, but it's an expertly entertaining one because of Burton's direction, the beautifully quirky sets and the unique musical score. Burton carries the movie along, creating costumes, sets and music that perfectly fit the film's vision. The production design by Rick Heinrichs is bright and bubbly, filled with colors that perfectly describe the 1950's and 60's setting. And the music by Danny Elfman keeps this tale moving along. Terrific group effort by the production team.

Big Eyes has many great pieces and is a very good film. But it never manages to be a truly great film. It never had that one moment where I knew that I was watching a masterpiece.  Nonetheless, this is an incredibly fun and intriguing watch, highlighted by the brilliant performances from Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. I immensely enjoyed this film throughout and it's definitely one of Tim Burton's best movies in recent memory. Big Eyes hasn't nearly made as much as it should at the box office, so I highly encourage you to seek it out.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                            (8.2/10)

Image Credits: Rama Screen, Variety, Screen Rant, Variety, Cinematic Shadows

1 comment:

  1. It was not the best film of the year, and not Burton's greatest work. I did not feel as moved as I was with Big Fish. But it is well-acted, thought-provoking, and a refreshing change of pace for Tim Burton.