Big Eyes finds Tim Burton reuniting with the writing team responsible for Ed Wood (1994), arguably one of the 54 year old directors finest films. Ed Wood was an exuberant, extrovert, played to the hilt by Johnny Depp in contract the protagonist of Big Eyes Margaret is a shy, introverted artist. It is a challenging role, but Adams is up to the challenge and captures the spirit of the artist in an under stated performance. In contrast Waltz hams it up, I’m conflicted in my response to his turn as Walter Keane.
The film begins in the late fifties as Margaret moves from the suffocating, oppressive burbs to the big bright city by the sea, San Francisco with her young daughter Jane. She works in for a furniture company painting cots and beds with her distinctive style. On the weekend she attempts to sell her painting in the park. Initially her ‘big eyes’ painting are ignored and scoffed at by not only the public but the elitist critics and gallery owners. Then she meets bullish, real estate broker Walter Keane, who recognises her talent, promotes her work and starts a juggernaut of notoriety and wealth for the couple. The only problem, he takes credit for all her work.
The film details the dominance of Walter over Margaret for much of their marriage, one lie almost destroys her life, she becomes estranged her from her daughter and complicit in a massive fraud orchestrated by Walter. Shut off behind locked doors for up to 16 hours at a time painting to satisfy the demands of an adoring public and a manipulative abusive husband. Margaret gradually emerges out of the darkness escapes to Hawaii to reclaim her life and bring down her megalomaniacal husband who clearly became addicted to the fame and fortune of being a celebrity.
What distinguishes Big Eyes is the recreation of 1950/60’s San Francisco, photographed by Bruno Delbonnel who recreates the twisted pastel colours, from the opening shots that recall the suburban sameness in the landscape, to the interior of the dark, smoky Jazz clubs, to the classic Californian home replete with swimming pool and period furniture. Rick Heinrichs a longtime Burton collaborator is responsible for the Production design, Big Eyes like all Burton films is a visual feast.
The performances range from the quiet, power in Adams depiction of Margaret, to Waltz verbose theatrics as Walter. At times Waltz threatens to steer the film to farce, though the Perry Mason inspired theatrics of the climatic court scenes were in fact an accurate reflection of the over the top antics of Keane at the time.