Saturday, December 27

REVIEW: Big Eyes

Directed by Tim Burton
2014 Drama
1 hour 45 minutes
From The Weinstein Company

Amy Adams
Christoph Waltz
Danny Huston
Krysten Ritter
Jason Schwartman
Terence Stamp
Jon Polito
James Saito

Here's something a little different from wacky director Tim Burton who's had a string of non-hits of late.  It's not as out there as Ed Wood but there are things about this film that recall the earlier one somewhat.  For one thing it is based on a real person.   Based may be the operative word for there has been chatter about the truth being tampered with.  Oh Hollywood, wouldn't do that.  Unfortunately, there's a malaise that falls over this film and if Burton was looking for something to knock out of the park, he'll have to wait for his next project.

One thing that Burton has attempted here is a look at dreary America in the 1950s featuring two gloomy lead characters.  It is as much as anything the story of a marriage but the focus is on Margaret Keane who painted those dreary big-eyed waifs over and over and over and over again.  It is also about her husband, Walter Keane, who usurped her work, boasting it would sell better as the work of a male artist.

Margaret is leaving another marriage as the film opens.  She grabs her daughter and hightails it to San Francisco with little money.  She immediately meets Walter who is the most unctuous, egotistical person one could ever hope to meet.  It would not appear she loved him when they married because she barely knew him.  The fact of the matter is she married him on the rebound and needed his money.  She was yet to realize that he didn't have much of that.  So their union began with little integrity and went downhill from there.  Walter claimed he'd painted many street scenes while living in Paris but neither Margaret or us ever see him paint.

The dispirited Margaret seems to just tiptoe around the story.  All we ever see her do is paint (really, the camera just shows her standing in front of a canvass and occasionally we see her take a swipe with a brush) and register hardship and compliance on her face.  The focus is on Walter who never bumped up against a lie he couldn't make his own.  Scabrous with a beseeching manner, ingratiating in a carnival barker sort of way, he longed to bask in the undiluted admiration of art patrons.

As arrogant and vile as he was... even suggesting to Margaret that he would have her taken out if she didn't produce more work for him and continue to go along with their fraudulent game... I found Margaret to be too weak to enjoy as a character.  Perhaps it was another part of the 50s lore where the man was lord and master and the wife was a doormat.  Whatever, they were both unappealing characters and the result is for me, not only did I not particularly care how it worked out for them, I thought they each deserved what they got.  Trying to cast her as the put-upon heroine registered a no-sale with me.

Perhaps it was intentional on the part of the filmmakers to give this movie a cheesy feel.  Perhaps some of it was due to her art which had Velveeta written all over it.  I didn't care for the look of the sets, costumes, much of anything.

What did score big was the courtroom scene at the end, where Walter gets his comeuppance and we get some much needed humor.  James Saito provided a good turn as the judge.

Terence Stamp, in a single scene, sharpened the focus of the film as an art critic who takes Walter to task for his shoddy work and does so at a party full of art snobs.

As for the acting of the two principals, it was fine.  Particularly enjoyable (if that's the word) was Waltz who, let's face it, plays creepy pretty well.  When he gave acceptance speeches for his two Oscars for the Tarantino films, I couldn't help but mutter to myself... are you for real?  And one certainly says that again here.  He is rarely trustworthy as a character but I find that I trust him as an actor even if that frequently means I trust him to go a bit over the top.

Adams is fine but I don't see her receiving her usual acclaim for this one.  The character is a lugubrious one and it would have been difficult to give much lustre to the performance.  She provides good face... eyes flashing, lips quivering, moving her hair. 

Burton wanted to give us something conventional, a bit ordinary.  I wonder how that's gonna work out for him.

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