Big Eyes (Tim Burton, 2014)
In the 1960s, a man named Walter Keane painted a series of paintings of waif-like little girls, all with tragically huge dark eyes, seemingly brimming with tears, which became a cultural sensation. A pioneer in the field of marketing reproductions, Keane became rich by selling cheap posters and postcards of his work. Excoriated by art critics but celebrated by the public, Keane built himself a tidy little dynasty. The only problem was that he was lying. His wife Margaret was the painter, and once she tired of living in her dominant husband’s shadow, and asked for a divorce, it was only a matter of time before Keane’s stolen glory would desert him. Tim Burton (Frankenweenie) has decided, for some reason, to give this sordid story is its own cinematic treatment, and so Walter (now deceased) and Margaret (still with us) are back in the news. Unfortunately, judging solely by this movie, the question to ask is . . . why do they deserve to be?
I have long admired Burton’s voice, even when I did not like certain movies of his. Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands (especially), Ed Wood, and Sweeney Todd, as well as animated fare like Frankenweenie, are among my favorites of his work. All have a recognizable aesthetic. Big Eyes could have been directed by anyone: it is that bland. Granted, the paintings at the center of the story are, themselves, without personality, but that the film about them should similarly lack a raison d’être is inexplicable. If Burton was able to wring drama and humor from the life of the talentless Ed Wood, why can he not do so here?
Beyond the script, the problem lies at least partly in the casting. Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), as Walter Keane, is a fine actor, but he is not a charming salesman type as Walter must be. And then there is the matter of that accent. Waltz is a polyglot, but he speaks English with a recognizably German intonation, which remains unexplained throughout the film. Amy Adams (American Hustle) fares no better. I am a big fan of hers, but here she fails to convince me that she is ever afraid enough of Walter to do his bidding. She exudes too much strength.
There’s nothing to recommend here. Unless you find the original paintings of interest, I would give it a pass.