Big Eyes

Big Eyes photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgI confess. It has been a long time since I truly felt pure joy in a Tim Burton film. Big Eyes is the real deal. It has wit, charm and a lighthearted touch. Perhaps that is somehow fitting because the tale concerns the profile of an artist.  Burton – a longtime Keane collector – highlights the life of a personality that for a brief moment, occupied the attention of popular culture.

I must admit that I’ve always regarded Keane’s portraits as a bit cloying. I’m probably closer to the art house snob depicted by Jason Schwartzman than the thousands who genuinely cherished her work in the 1960s. Her output was never validated by the cognoscenti. Woody Allen’s Sleeper (1973)  offers a gag where people of the future consider Keane to be one of the greatest artists in history. She paints children in a primitive style, defers to her husband and becomes a Jehovah’s Witness. The production could have easily descended into camp and treated her as an object of ridicule – but it never does. Burton goes out of his way to handle his subject with a respect that is unique and kind of admirable. What makes Big Eyes so affecting is that it embraces the artist with an impartiality that makes me understand it through the “eyes” of someone who legitimately appreciates her work.

Tim Burton’s enthusiasm can present an odd topic with a delightful zest for the uninitiated. Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands are two of the director’s best. Those tales couldn’t have been told better by any other director. They are distinctly Burtonian – if I may create/borrow a word. That’s the director’s passion coming through in every scene. Big Eyes is a gorgeous looking film too. The cinematography pops with the color and carefully arranged sets that give weight to a setting. Beneath that rosy exterior though, beats the thwarted aspirations of a would-be artist. The tale of Margaret Keane springs to life with a vibrancy and compassion that I haven’t seen from Burton in years.

“The ‘50s were a great time, if you were a man”.  That opening line of Big Eyes sets the stage for Margaret Keane’s dystopia. Felt forced to promote a lie that had her locked in a stuffy room while she produced one painting after another. Margaret created hundreds that were then sold under her husband’s name. And boy did they sell. Margaret Keane captivated the fascination of a public who were drawn to her doe eyed waifs. But the story also acknowledges the marketing genius of Walter Keane. Art is often a mixture of talent as well as timing. Walter had a charismatic gift of gab. Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz dazzle in their respective roles. The script presents this all in a most appealing way that eschews the campy derision many have for her compositions in exchange for sincere affection. The mentality succeeds as it made me appreciate her style in a way I had never before. Tim Burton clearly identifies with Margaret Keane and his depiction of her comes from a place of love. I had only a cursory knowledge of her work before. Now I have a desire to learn more. With a biography, that’s the highest praise I can give.

12-28-14

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30 Responses to “Big Eyes”

  1. I can’t wait to see Big Eyes. I’m a huge Burton fan and was going to see it on its first showing at my local cinema on boxing day but was ill 😦 seeing it on Tuesday though, it looks great! Great review 🙂

  2. Nice review. I had fallen away from Burton until Frankenweenie which I loved. Big Eyes really has me excited. Hope to see it tomorrow.

  3. I got to see this film and I totally enjoyed it! As a art minor in college, I really got to appreciate this film in its entirety. A must see! 4 stars for me!

    • Your minoring in art reminds me of Terrence Stamp’s role as art critic John Canaday. He provided a harsh window into the “intellectual” view of Margaret Keane’s work.

  4. I had a chance to see this the other day, but I went to see Unbroken instead. Now I’m REALLY regretting my decision.

    Good review here, Mark. Glad to hear that Tim Burton is back on track again. Frankenweenie was his last film, right? I didn’t care for that film all too much, and Dark Shadows before that was an absolute disaster.

  5. This was actually a delight to see, especially for a Tim Burton film. Quite charming and what tremendous acting! Great review 🙂 Glad you liked it too!

  6. I saw this today and I had ups and downs with it. I think it’s Burton’s best in years but I just didn’t find myself fully engaged.

  7. so glad to hear this is good.

  8. Burtonian!!! I like that term. Sounds like a really good movie, of an artist am not that familiar with. This movie should help.
    Great Review.

  9. Saw it a few months back w/Burton, Adams & Waltz doing the Q & A afterwards.. Listening to their passion & what they put into the film made me like it all the more. Take a peek at my review if you have the chance..we come close to completely agreeing! 😀

  10. This one took me by surprise too, I really enjoyed it though I felt it kind of started to fall apart a bit towards the end. There came a point where the nonsense being espoused by Walter Keane dipped into the cartoonish; but to be fair this is Burton and things could have gotten out of hand. It was impressive how ‘normal’ this movie appeared. That’s a terrible word to describe it as it still had this quirky energy to it, but this was far more accessible Burton than the last 4 or 5 he’s cranked out!

    I’m not sure how I feel about this whole thing yet so it’ll take a me another couple days before I can get something up.

    • After I saw Big Eyes I was inspired to do research on Walter and Margaret Keane. I will say that the “cartoonish” aspects to Walter Keane’s antics near the end are in fact downplayed to what actually happened in reality. His true life actions were even MORE ridiculous – if you can believe it.

  11. Wow, I really adored this one. I am unsure if something truly stood out (though most everything is very good) but the sum of its parts equaled a very well made and entertaining movie.

  12. I could see how Burton could make an enjoyable film out of this subject matter. He certainly has a respect for artists, even “artists” like Ed Wood. Although Burton’s film about Ed Wood descends into camp, there it feels appropriate given Wood’s milieu. That said, I’m happy to hear this is return to form for Burton and that it works both visually and from a script perspective. The fact that you had a new perspective on Keane as an artist after watching it certainly speaks to a well-made film.

  13. Saw this today. Really entertaining movie with a fantastic Adams performance.

  14. This was a great movie. I want and think Amy Adams should be nominated for an Oscar for this. I’ve never heard of this story and was excited to learn that the Keanes lived only a few miles away from me, in Woodside. Such a nice surprise. 4 1/2 stars

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