“Big Eyes” is the story of the very famous tale of 1950’s art sensation “Walter Keane” (Christoph Waltz), known for painting waifish children with large, eerie eyes, and was scandalously revealed to have been stealing recognition for the work which was actually painted by his wife, “Margaret Keane” (Amy Adams), the whole time.
(Note: Release date for this film is 25th of December, 2014)
2 things of note here: 1. This is not your typical Tim Burton movie. If you want another ‘Beetlejuice’ or ‘Nightmare before Christmas’ type movie, this isn’t it. Maybe a little ‘Ed Wood’, but then no..not really!! It’s a completely off the map of his usual as it’s a biography/drama. 2. Oddly enough I could not get the chorus of the Cheap Trick song “Big Eyes” out of my head while watching this movie. It fit it so perfectly..yeah I know..it’s just me. 😀
This story is narrated throughout by real-life San Francisco Examiner columnist “Dick Nolan” (Danny Huston) many times noting his own personal thoughts/feelings from ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak. Beginning in the what I presume to be the early 1950’s, we see Margaret walk out on her first marriage, with her young ‘muse’ daughter “Jane” (Delaney Raye) in tow. She meets fellow-artist Walter while selling her works and drawing caricatures in the park in San Francisco’s North Beach area. They start dating and she becomes intoxicated by him with his stories of all his travels along with the fact that he’s lived in Paris where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and drew inspiration for his many Montmartre street scenes and was an considered an ‘acclaimed’ artist there though he’s actually in real estate – go figure. In order to keep her ex-husband at bay as concerns about custody rights arise (since single mothers of the era weren’t treated kindly in the court system), she decides to marry Walter, despite the unease of her close friend “DeeAnn” (Krysten Ritter) who is only to aware of his womanizing reputation that proceeds him. A mistake leads to Walter taking credit for Margaret’s work, and before long, it’s a lie they are both complicit in feeding at the beginning.
With a shotgun Hawaiian wedding & honeymoon behind them, we see Walter back to shopping his paintings around town using his talent not only as a salesman, but his adeptness as a showman and self-promoter shopping not only his own work per-se’, but Margaret’s as well. Finally convincing local big-shot club owner “Enrico Banducci” (Jon Polito) to show the paintings at the famous nightclub “The Hungry i” where it seems the patrons finding themselves more inclined towards Margaret’s work rather than his. As all the works are signed “Keane” you see where this story is heading as the lie becomes harder & harder to expose as Margaret’s art is becoming a complete world cultural phenonmenon like nothing ever before seen in the art world. Walter is giving away special originals to everyone from movie stars to politicians & dignitaries and biggest coo of all, Andy Warhol gives him a shout-out compliment. Although all along we can see his true agenda is he just wants to be around the famous and be famous. Before we can blink, we see Walter opening his own gallery across the street no less from a rather hipster-for the time-local gallery curator “Ruben” (Jason Schwartzman) selling prints, posters, postcards..being interviewed on TV explaining the creation process, his ‘motivation’ behind the portraits. All of this is being watched by Margaret as she sits in her studio painstakingly painting away.
As we watch the lie slowly but surely start to unfold, we also see that while Walter is as charming as can be on the outside, his inside reveals what a smarmy character he really is as Margaret finds out about lie after lie he’s told. His whole past is truly just that, one big lie as he was never an artist and seemly stole someone else’s paintings even before they met. Margaret, on the other hand seems almost helpless to stop it as the betrayal is not only shocking to her and her now almost grown daughter (Madeleine Arthur steps in as teenage Jane) who has figured out the big picture here also. But seemingly they are both to frightened of Walter at this point, whose drinking exacerbates his rollercoaster moods, to reveal the true painter behind as her paintings are now monopolized to the tune of a very large enterprise, labeled as “an infinity of kitsch” by new York Times art critic “John Canaday” played wonderfully by Terence Stamp, one of the major influences of the art world at that time.
As Margaret finally runs away again from another bad marriage, she finds herself back in Hawaii painting without an outlet when comes a knock at the door in the form of Jehovah’s Witness ladies. Now I always thought though they were always friendly enough, it just never failed that they came at the most inopportune of moments like when you just poured milk on your cereal & such and were mostly just tolerated. I never though it actually worked as a recruitment strategy, but alas I am proven wrong as that is just how Margaret finally gets the wherewithall to stand up for herself. They move on to an all out confrontation with an over-the-top circus quality type trial lead a bit humorously by James Saito as the judge. In the end it all comes down to a ‘draw-off’ which as we know only Margaret can win and does as she is finally recognized as the true artist behind “Big Eyes”.
The performances are strong here by both Waltz & Adams though not as strong for me as say American Hustle in which she was pure gold in. Though with Best Actress category being rather light this year, I can definitely see Adams getting another nomination for this role.
– Seen on November 14th, 2014 at Academy Screening with Q & A following the screening: Tim Burton, Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Larry Karaszewski, Scott Alexander, Lynette Howell
(see grading scale)