By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
It’s not usually in Tim Burton’s nature to be subtle with the visuals in his films. In his cinematic universe, colors, characters and set designs often get exaggerated for better or worse. What makes his latest film so refreshing is the fact that he has decided to tone things down somewhat and take a more subtle and realistic approach to a true story adaptation. In Big Eyes, Burton’s style radiates beautifully, and in not such a gaudy way as in some of his latest films (Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland). In fact I find it amusing that the subject of this movie is an artist who chooses to exaggerate a certain physical feature of her subjects. Perhaps she has inspired some of Burton’s previous work, but in this film, Burton exercises restraint and skillfully presents an important story without letting his visuals overshadow his subject.
During the 1950s, Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams) is a soft spoken artist who enjoys painting, but has not really made a living off of her work. Recently divorced, she meets the charming and fast talking Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a completely different kind of artist. Keane has the gift of gab and recognizes the talent within Margaret. The two begin a romantic relationship and soon marry. Walter sees an opportunity to make money with Margaret’s paintings and finds customers willing to buy them or copies of them. The problem is that Walter sells them as his own, not informing his customers and admirers that his wife is the real artist.
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Burton’s movie is an important film that reminds audiences of a time when women had to struggle for recognition in a male dominated society. Margaret Keane may have been shy and meek, but she still deserved full credit for her paintings. Walter Keane took advantage of her talent and made a name for himself in the art world, keeping her at home slaving over a canvas and easel. Women have come a long way since then, but it is important to recognize the obstacles they have had to overcome to get here. This film does a great job telling such a story which acknowledges the struggle of women.
Alexander, Karaszewski, and Burton manage to balance the more serious aspects of this story with the humorous ones quite well. I rather enjoyed the sharp wit and biting satire that the filmmakers have included in this otherwise disturbing story. Overall, the movie has a lot of great writing and solid direction. Burton may have toned down his style somewhat, but his use of colors and Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography look gorgeous. I have only one gripe with the story. One particular scene which was intended to play out rather dramatically comes across as corny and melodramatic. It is a moment I think belongs in a daytime soap opera rather than a serious feature film. Even the performances of the actors in this scene come across melodramatically.
For the most part, however, the entire cast performs well. Amy Adams delivers another strong and solid turn as Margaret, the tortured artist exploited by her very own husband. Christoph Waltz may be perfect for the charming and conniving Walter Keane, but his style and delivery is starting to become a regular routine for him. It works in this movie, but I would like to see Waltz play a completely different kind of character, and not one so similar to Col. Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds. Waltz brings a charming wit to most of his characters, but perhaps it is time to portray a not so charming character. To be fair, though, Walter Keane’s charm does wear thin once his true colors are revealed.
Thankfully, Margaret has gotten the recognition she deserves and Burton’s film does a fine job telling her story. The movie is a fascinating, enjoyable, and triumphant piece that deserves an audience. I must highly recommend Big Eyes as another relevant entry in the history of women’s rights. Margaret Keane may have been a timid and shy person, but she eventually found the strength to stand up for herself and fight for her legacy.