So, I just got done watching Big Eyes. Big Eyes is a film that I'd been meaning to watch since it came out in 2014 but never got around to it, and upon scrolling through the channels, I managed to catch it on Sky Movies just as it was starting. I have admired Margaret Keane's work for years and upon hearing about the movie, directed by one of my favourite directors and starring one of my favourite actresses in Tim Burton and Amy Adams, respectively and being an artist myself, there was no way I wasn't gonna see this!
In the late 1950's and 60's, Margaret Keane's paintings of sad looking children dominated by over sized eyes, dubbed 'windows to the soul' became a fast growing sensation. They achieved high popularity- to the point where she was reportedly painting non-stop for 16 hours a day under her husbands name; whilst constantly slammed by, among many others, New York Times art critic John Canady (portrayed in the film by Terence Stamp). What's amazing is how much of this film is actually true. There are times where it's hard to tell where the truth ends and the exaggeration begins- and many a times where you think it just too ridiculous to have actually happened, proving that you really can't make this stuff up!
Margaret Keane said of the film and Amy Adams,
"It was a very emotional, traumatic experience when I first saw the movie. I just couldn’t believe it. I was really in shock for about two days."
"The way Amy portrayed exactly how I was feeling, I don't know how she did it."
If you don't already know the story of Margaret Keane, I would recommend going into this movie blind. The film's story is relatively straight forward and the unfolding plot came of no surprise to me as I already knew where it was going, but if you can help it, just watch the film. The basic outline of the story is this- Margaret Keane is a painter and her husband takes credit for her work. That's really all you need to know as a newcomer. However, if you'd prefer a preview, the (all too revealing) trailer is below.
The film stars multi-award nominated Amy Adams and Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz, both giving phenomenal performances as they always do. Amy Adams portrayal of the artist is beautiful. Adams has never not given a great performance; she did a great job here as timid, troubled and vulnerable but also with a fire inside her that is seemingly ready to explode any moment. You can really feel her emotional state throughout this film- you feel sorry for her, you feel happy for her, and at times you just want to give her a big ol' hug. It is one of the few performances where I can say that I forgot the actress behind the portrayal.
Tim Burton said of the character,
“It’s hard, because it’s a strange character. She’s very quiet, very shy, but not a victim. She has a really strong core, and she found her voice in a way that she only could do it. It was important to me, the writers and Amy to get things right."
It is quite the contrast to her husband, Walter, who is energetic and cartoonish like a pantomime villain. Especially,
Toward the end of the film after the truth comes out, Waltz gives a Jack Nicholson like performance as he seemingly descends further and further into madness. It's chilling, uncomfortable and unpredictable, and it kept me on the edge of my seat. Walter rapidly becomes consumed by the the lie that he has created, and forcing his wife to go down with him.
Big Eyes was directed by Tim Burton and written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski; the same minds behind Burton's other biopic about a troubled and criticized artist, Ed Wood (1994). It's a step away from Burton's usual dark fantasy flicks. The film maintains the facial close ups, dark visual style and big, dopey eyes present in typical Tim Burtons flicks. (Burton has acknowledged the influence that Margaret Keane's style and big rounded eyes have had on his own artwork and characters). This doesn't have any otherworldly creatures or creepy visuals; well, apart from that one scene. It is the most 'grown up' Tim Burton movie in years and a refreshing change of pace from the Disney movies, remakes and adaptations that the director has been churning over the last few years. AND it doesn't star Johnny Depp or Helena Bomham Carter! What?! Tim Burton has been a collector of Margaret Keane's work for years and his interest and love is clear through the movie's authenticity, exploration of emotions and exploitation of women in the fifties and sixties.
The film's soundtrack, like most of Tim Burton's flicks, features the dark and stunning work of Danny Elfman on the instrumental tracks. It also features classic songs of the time and two tracks written and performed by Lana Del Rey, who's dark and thought provoking aesthetic perfectly compliments the 'windows to the soul' that Margaret Keane's paintings depict. The titular track, "Big Eyes", which Del Rey wrote with Daniel Heath, received a Golden Globe nomination.
Del Ray told Billboard,
"I'm a fan of her art and I think her interpretation of the world and how she saw it, the way she painted was really interesting and beautiful."
Big Eyes is well acted and thought provoking. It works as both a biopic and an insightful period drama of social commentary, manipulation and abusive domestic relationships. The film deals with the prospect of good vs bad and the role and impact of the media and critics; it presents a feminist dynamic in that it tells the story of a woman first conforming to expectations and then challenging the male dominated world and finding her own voice. Tim Burton is back at the top of his game, taking centre stage once again.