Directed by Tim Burton. Written by Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski. Starring Amy Adams (Margaret Keane), Cristoph Waltz (Walter Keane), Krysten Ritter (DeeAnn).
Bottom line: Big Eyes is a really solid movie but I can’t help but be left with the feeling that they could’ve gone further in some respects.
Big Eyes is fascinating true(ish) story of the Walter and Margaret Keane who attained world fame through Margaret's interesting art style.
The movie opens with a shot of 1950's American suburbs. The camera enters one of the houses and we see Margaret and her daughter packing to leave Margaret’s husband. That isn't something someone does in the 1950's. She moves San Francisco to start a new life as a single mother. She soon meets a charismatic painter named Walter. The pair gets married and live in artistic, romantic bliss. Walter, as shrewd businessman, discovers the economic potential of Margaret's unique style. Unbeknownst to Margaret, Walter takes credit for the Big Eyes. He’s a natural salesman and knows how difficult it would be to sell a woman's art. When Margaret learns of his actions, she feels betray but she complies. Thus begins a decade long scam that took the world and the art world by storm.
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz each give a wonderful performance. Adams received a Golden Globe for her role at Margaret, after all. This a directed by Tim Burton and, remarkably, it doesn’t have Johnny Depp or Helen Bonham Carter. There are some really good camera shots and I liked the music.
Thematically, Big Eyes provides a lot of food for thought. It’s fascinating to her Margaret’s story; in the fifties, women let alone mother’s never left their husbands, then to take their gender issues a step further, Walter asserts that no one buys female artists work, and on some level, it was true. Big Eyes also plays with the idea of the relationship to art – not only between the consumer and the art, but the artist and the art, even the artist and the consumer.
Have you seen Ratatouille? If you haven’t, please do. It’s adorable. In this movie, the villain is a tall, thin, skeletal food critic named Anton Ego (Peter O’toole). “For a person who likes food, you’re pretty thin,” quips a character. To which Anton responds with, “I don’t like food; I love it. If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow.” That’s the type of character we’re talking about. There is a remarkably similar character in Big Eyes. He’s a critic named Terence Stamp (John Canaday). When Stamp is introduced, he is giving a scathing review to the Big Eye painting, “…this is why the world needs critics: to protect the public from garbage like this.” He’s a character that returns at several points in the story but the relationship between the art and the critic and the public is one I always find interesting.
After all, that’s what I trying to be with this blog. I love movies. I know that if I don’t like a movie or like a movie, there will be a ton of people who like it. That’s totally fine. It serves as a reminder. When I post a review it isn’t so much about passing judgment but discussing my experiences with a movie.
Discussions about the merits of a work of art are complex. I hesitate to get much further into it because there are books, course, even careers built on that question alone. The film opens with a quote by Warhol saying, ‘If people like it, that’s all that matters,’ which gives some incite into the position it might be taking.
Overall, I’d recommend Big Eyes. You don’t even have to like the Big Eyes art to enjoy the movie. I’m not the biggest fan of it but I enjoyed watching and thinking about the issues the film brings up.
There is one scene that nearly caused me to laugh out loud. Margaret is walking through a grocery store – I’m not totally positive that it wasn’t a dream sequence but, in any case, we see a stack of Campbell Soup cans near a Big Eyes merchandise stand. Racked by conflict and guilt over the Big Eyes success, Margaret quietly walks to the cash register. She looks up at the cashier and stands, stunned. The cashier has big eyes! Margaret looks around and sees the impatient family behind her (a mother, daughter, and son) that has big eyes. “Don’t forget this is directed by Tim Burton,” screamed this scene. Other than that, there was a lot of restraint shown throughout the movie so it didn’t become over stylized. I, for one, really appreciated it.
My one major complaint about the movie is that it didn’t quite go far enough. It was solid until about halfway through or maybe three-quarters when they turned Waltz’s character into a domineering monster. Like nearly The Shining level crazy. They really didn’t have to do that either. I mean, Walter Keane was a person after all. He had feelings and hopes and dreams just like Margaret but because he had a fiery temper, he was demonized. Margaret, after all, was complicit in the scheme for a long time too. I wish the film would’ve gone further in terms of developing their characters. But I’m not surprised they went in this direction. Tim Burton is a collector of the Big Eyes paintings and has always been a big fan of Margaret’s art, so you can see where his sympathies lie.
Have you seen Big Eyes? Do you like that style of art? What did you think about the characterization of Walter Keane?
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