Big Eyes Review
Chances are you might never have heard of the artist Keane, or that you’ll even be familiar with their work. But taking one look at these bizarre, hauntingly beautiful paintings featuring children with overly large eyes and, kitsch though they may be, you’ll feel drawn to them. Plenty of people also felt drawn to them in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the paintings first became a fast-selling, commercial phenomenon. However what people didn’t know at the time was that there was a big secret behind these ‘waifs’: the artist who took credit for them hadn’t actually painted them. Margaret Keane was the true artist of all the paintings, but her husband Walter claimed them as his own, leaving Margaret to live in his shadow for years while he reaped the rewards of fame and fortune. It is this tale that takes centre stage in Tim Burton’s latest film, aptly titled Big Eyes (2014) – a strange but true story about one woman struggling to live with a huge lie.
However strange this real life tale may be though, stranger still is how a story such as this, which practically seems gift-wrapped for the biopic treatment, sadly never really gets off the ground. A promising start in which we see Margaret (Amy Adams) escaping from her previous husband with her young daughter (Delaney Raye) in tow, sets the pace nicely, as does her first encounter with Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) who she falls in love with and quickly marries. Yet Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s script plods along when it should soar, only becoming truly interesting for a few brief scenes (chiefly when we see how Walter’s plagiarism first came about, as well as Margaret’s devastated discovery of this). Overall though this is an oddly dull affair that never gets below the surface of the characters’ or offers us any more insight than what a quick Google search about the Keane’s can tell us.
Further problems with the structure and pacing of the film are revealed later on during the final moments. For a film that’s meant to be all about a woman regaining her power, it really doesn’t seem that interested in its own female character. How else do you explain the writers and director Tim Burton only giving her the last 20 minutes of the film to take back the spotlight and reclaim her work? As a result these final scenes feel rushed and unemotional, despite the fact that they culminate in what should be an exciting and powerful moment in Margaret’s story (a trial scene between her and Walter). But even this can’t inject life into Big Eyes, resulting in an ending that is somewhat of an anti-climax.
Yet there are still a few moments of Tim Burton genius to be found throughout Big Eyes – moments that are worth shouting about. A particular highlight is when Margaret, while walking around a supermarket, suddenly sees everyone with large, exaggerated eyes – her guilt at giving away her life’s work manifesting itself to horrifying effect (an eerie moment that is repeated later in the film). The production design throughout is also excellent, making for colourful, picture-perfect imagery (beautifully lensed by Bruno Delbonnel) which draws you into this world, as does Danny Elfman’s fun yet emotional score. These aspects particularly stand out due to the high quality visuals and enhanced audio of this Blu-ray release. However all of these positive features are lost in amongst the boring plot and tiresome script, as well as an overall tone that Burton never gets quite right. Is it a comedy? A drama? It seems as though he can’t quite decide, resulting in an unfocused film that sits uneasily with his other work.
This could have been a clever, thought-provoking look at one woman who struggled to make it in a man’s world, yet a script that offers little depth and a lagging pace, not to mention pointless narration from a side character, all overshadows this. The Blu-ray extras for this release at least give some more insight into Margaret’s story (which consist of a brief Making Of and a lengthy Q & A), but overall the film’s numerous flaws mean that Big Eyes sadly plays like a made-for-TV film rather than the sweeping biopic it should have been. Still, the brilliant cast keep this largely watchable, in particular the brilliant Amy Adams who expertly portrays Margaret and her true passion behind her art. But even she can’t save this from becoming very tedious. File this one with the other Burton misfires of late (excluding the fabulous Frankenweenie (2012)) and hope he gets back to his old form soon.