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BIG EYES (review)

big_eyesBIG EYES

Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski / Directed by Tim Burton / Starring Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz and Kristen Ritter

Margaret Keane: What’s espresso? Is it kind of like reefer?

Just saying his name brings countless iconic images to mind. His style is distinct, playful, often frightening, and designed to bring his audience into a wonderland of the grotesque and surreal. But lately, Tim Burton’s signature has become more of a burden than anything else. Over time, he has become repetitive, trite, and some would even say stale. When he gave us films like BEETLEJUICE and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, he changed the way we imagined cinema; using elements of horror and drama while paying homage to the great German Expressionist directors. When THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS was released, he gave us a holiday film that could be watched on either the darkest, or most cheerful of holidays (which one is which is of course, up to you). But then came films like CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, ALICE IN WONDERLAND and DARK SHADOWS; all colourful but all rather lifeless as well. His latest film, BIG EYES, is a departure from his redundancies in a way, bringing life back into his work and surprising us, scratch that, reminding us, that his films can be joyous, deeply felt and yes, delightfully bizarre; a very welcome return to form.

Amy Adams transforms herself into Margaret Keane, a naive, divorced mother and struggling artist in 1950’s San Fransisco. To say that good fortunate is not on her side would be putting it lightly. She finds work painting children’s furniture and selling portraits in the park on her off time with her daughter nearby. One day, while sketching in the park, she meets Walter (Christoph Waltz), a fellow artist selling his Parisian cityscapes next to her. The two eventually get to talking, going on dates and sharing their love of art. Walter tells her wildly romantic stories of living in Europe and the studying he did while abroad, effectively winning over this midwestern divorcee. Eventually the two are married, and begin to focus on their artwork together.


Walter, finding himself rather unsuccessful in selling his own art, eventually discovers that his wife’s own unique style of portrait garners a lot of attention from the patrons at the local jazz club where their work is on display. Convincing Margaret that it is a man’s world and no one would believe that a woman could have produced these works of art, he takes credit for her work, conniving his plan to benefit him both financially and with fame. Forcing Margaret to work tirelessly to produce paintings that have caught the attention of art critics, and the likes of Andy Warhol, Walter basks in the limelight he has created, and stolen from his wife. All of that is widely known among artists and in the art world, so don’t think I’ve ruined any part of the movie for you.

As Margaret, Adams gives an incredible performance of a woman who has fled from one abusive relationship and fallen right into another. Thinking that what she has in Walter is perfect, slowly over the years reveals itself to be a quite complex display of power and dominance over what he believes to be a weak woman, which she certainly is not. But this is the 1950’s and 60’s, and with little support for women and their children, it’s easy to understand how she found herself in this situation, as infuriating as it might seem to some viewers. Margaret not only had a husband to keep happy, but a daughter that thought the world of her. This lie the family had created eventually drove Margaret to not only resent herself, but her relationships with those around her as well, rendering her no good to anyone at all.


The concept of stealing art and producing it in large quantities for mass consumption is a devastating one to many people, and Burton has shown us this terrible underbelly that exists in many facets of the art world, not just in painting. Perhaps he himself used this story to take a stab at the big studios of the movie world and their propensity for mass marketing and subduing creativity. As much as this is a departure for Burton, it isn’t without the trademark flourishes that make him who he is, and what sticks out more than anything is the stunning colour palette that is reflective of the period. Pinks, greens, blues and yellows are all saturated across the screen, making each shot look like a singular piece of artwork, intensifying the beautiful set design that’s filled with gorgeous mid-century modern furniture. All of this reminded me of when Burton made films like BIG FISH, when it felt like he too believed magic in cinema was possible. Simply put, BIG EYES is Burton at his very best; and for the first time in a long time, our eyes are once again widened with wonder.

4 sheep

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