Ellie Wells ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
In the late 1950s into the early 1960s, Walter Keane’s paintings of big-eyed children were massively popular, earning him fame and fortune. What no one found out until much later was that it had all been a sham. Not only had Keane not painted a single big-eyed child, but he did not have an ounce of a painter’s talent in his blood. His wife, Margaret, was the true painter. He would lock her in a small studio for sixteen hours a day or more, isolating her from the outside world, and threatening violence if she did not paint. In 1965 she left him, and five years later she sued him for slander. When they were both asked to paint before court, Walter claimed he had a sore shoulder, and Margaret completed hers easily.
It’s a harrowing story, one that had captivated Tim Burton from the early nineties when he began to collect Margaret’s work. Although he has always been a polarizing director, with his detractors criticizing the formulaic, style-over-substance nature of his work, this adaptation of Keane’s story is easily Burton’s best film since 1994’s Ed Wood. His passion for the story clearly shows. Gone is the excessive CGI, the kooky characters, and the fantastical settings and situations. Instead here we have a wholly human piece of work. Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz are both fantastic as Margaret and Walter respectively. Not only does their chemistry make their early romance believable, but Waltz balances menace and charm so perfectly. Audiences not only understand why he was able to achieve such success but how Margaret—by all means a strong and capable woman—was frightened into submission for nearly ten years.
Although it is set in the real world, Burton’s signature artistry is still present. The colors are saturated to an extreme degree. The sets, the costumes, and the camera angles are all designed in such a way that makes everything all seem like something out of an advertisement. This not only fits the story, but adds, rather than detracts from it.
The film does start to lose steam in the third act. Several scenes feel drawn out or unnecessary, such as the radio broadcast where Margaret first takes credit for the paintings as well as her becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. This only makes audiences impatient for the payoff of seeing Walter discovered.
In spite of all of this, Big Eyes is easily one of the year’s best. It is proof that Tim Burton is capable of painting raw, emotional portraits of the human experience, as he did with Ed Wood twenty years ago.
Overall Grade: A