Catching Up: Big Eyes (2014)

Big Eyes (2014)

Between 2000 and 2007 if I were asked my favorite director, the answer would assuredly be Tim Burton.  His films up to that point had fed into my desire for the macabre aesthetic. Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood showcased the best of Johnny Depp, Sleepy Hollow remains one of the most impressive horror films of my lifetime, and Batman Returns is still my favorite Christmas movie. However, when Charlie and the Chocolate Factory started that era of his career, my enjoyment began to dwindle.

 

His most recent fare began to be ignored. I hated Alice in Wonderland, skipped Dark Shadows, and haven’t yet brought myself to watch Frankenweenie. A lazy Saturday brought me to watch Big Eyes, the biopic of artist Margaret Keane. Transitioning from housewife to single mother artist and illustrator in San Francisco, Keane finds her career absorbed by her con artist new husband Walter Keane. From street caricatures to barroom gallery to massive commercial success, the secret of her talents provide ample material for drama and artistic impression.

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The film works on many levels unexpected from the director too fond of computer animation in recent years.  Taking the script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, his previous collaborators on his arguably best film Ed Wood, Burton demonstrated his ability to tone down the absurdly over designed nature of his aughts to allow this biopic to speak for itself.  Margaret Keane’s art is known for the distinctive big eyed nymph portraits, but I was completely unaware of this history before seeing the movie.  This well written movie showcases many talents from production to performance.

 

Burton’s team is strong, as usual.  Colleen Atwood creates expectedly colorful but era appropriate costuming.  Accepting a job without thousands of corsets or kimonos could not possibly make her break a sweat now.  The gorgeous studios and dreary bars complimenting Keane’s stolen work are courtesy of Rick Heinrichs, heavily overlooked for an excellent collection of Burton-faithful, understated sets.  Shot by Bruno Delbonnel, capturing the paintings at haunting angles, and spliced by JC Bond, another frequent collaborator of Burton’s.  Finally, Danny Elfman returns with a swelling score handsomely punctuated by welcome original songs by Lana del Rey: “Big Eyes” and “I Smile Back”.

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Christoph Waltz was the sole disappointment among a generally strong ensemble.  Though I know nothing of Walter Keane, Waltz’s performance involved far too much of the malevolent grin of Inglourious Basterds without the motive.  A skeezy man is made to feel menacing when he tries to hide behind his teeth, but Waltz seems to have forgot he was not a Nazi but rather a con artist with a drinking problem.  Otherwise, the backup team provide pleasing cameos.  Our recent favorite heroine(?) Jessica Jones appears as Margaret’s skeptical bestie, providing her unique persona to envelope the film.  Delaney Raye and Madeleine Arthur provide halves of Margaret’s aging daughter Jane, seamlessly blending between the actresses to the point I wasn’t sure when they switched.  Terence Stamp is a particular delight as an art critic bemoaning Walter Keane’s growing success, and he does it with his British drawl that makes one smile wide.

 

Amy Adams owns this movie.  With a perfect mild Southern accent, Adams nails the soft spoken artist who has fallen under the spell of her manipulative husband.  Before and after the women’s lib movement, Margaret is displayed as a woman with a very unique perspective and vision of the world, and it is maintained through the increasing torments of Walter.  Adams has an unmatched possession of soft spoken woman with her soft complexion and natural Disney princess quality allows an audience to attach themselves to this naturally likable actress.  This performance, rightfully earning her a Golden Globe, is worth the entire movie.

 

Bringing back some of the faith I lost in this director, Tim Burton finally returns to a realm where I don’t wish for blindness.  Amy Adams provides a top notch performance to cap an overall strong movie.  The design, pacing and filming are of exceptional quality, and my anticipation to see if he can keep the moderate tone for Miss Peregrine makes me actually want to see his movie in theaters again.

3.25 out of 4 stars

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