Cinema Review: Big Eyes | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Big Eyes

Studio: The Weinstein Company
Directed by Tim Burton

Dec 23, 2014 Web Exclusive
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If you don’t recognize Walter Keane’s name, you may be familiar with his “work.” The portraits of big-eyed children – often worrisomely skinny and squeezing a cat or another fuzzy critter in a chokehold – were a kitschy staple in American homes throughout the 1960s, when they were mass-produced as posters, prints, and postcards and sold at gas stations and supermarkets throughout the country. Whether the paintings were art or simply tack is up for debate; Keane found no acceptance among the critic’s circles of his day, and sales of the work trailed off in the 1960s. What’s more interesting about the paintings today is the context they gained later on, when it was revealed the works were not actually Walter Keane’s, but his wife, Margaret’s. The Keanes’ marriage – and their multi-million dollar deception – is dramatized in Tim Burton’s latest, Big Eyes.

The charming, manipulative Walter is played with underlying menace by Christoph Waltz; Amy Adams portrays Margaret Keane with enough social anxiety for the audience to understand how she might have let her husband’s lies stand for so long. It’s refreshing to witness Burton – whose last four live-action features were the increasingly dismal Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows – casting outside of his usual stable. (There’s no Helena Bonham Carter, Christopher Lee, or, most thankfully, Johnny Depp to be found here.) If the change of company wasn’t enough to shake the filmmaker free of his quirk-creep rut, perhaps it’s the relatively grounded material he’s given to work with. Burton took over the project when screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski were unable to find funding to direct the film themselves. The pair penned The People vs. Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon in addition to Burton’s similar-feeling Ed Wood; they’re masters of writing the oddball biopic, and the script hits all of the right beats. Jason Schwartzman, Krysten Ritter, and Danny Huston fill out the rest of the feature’s modest cast.

Whatever the case, Big Eyes is the least Tim Burton-y movie he’s made in twenty years, and at this juncture in Burton’s career, that may be the best possible thing he could have done. Big Eyes is a film carried by its strange subject and strong performances, and the director was wise to not let his usually-heavy hand get in their way.

Author rating: 6.5/10

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