Big Eyes  (2014)

I'm a big fan of Tim Burton, but this felt like the least-Burtony he's ever been. No Johnny Depp, no Helena Bonham-Carter, no gothic settings. A lot of this movie felt like it could have been directed by anyone, but there are still some touches of Burton when the movie stretches into a few fantastical elements. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it ended up not being quite what I expected when I sat down.

In the late 1950s, Margaret left her husband, and ran away with her daughter to San Francisco. An artist, Margaret takes a job doing artwork on furniture, while trying to make side money as a street caricaturist. On the street, she meets another artist, the charismatic Walter Keane. They quickly fall in love and get married. The pair try to sell some of their original artwork - Walter specialized in Parisian street scenes, while Margaret's signature was images of pallid children with exaggerated eyes. The street scenes don't register, but the "so creepy it's cute" kitsch makes the children popular. With Walter's charm, he convinces Margaret that he should be the face of their enterprise, selling the artwork and schmoozing the public while she stays home and creates.

Initially Margaret accepts the arrangement, but as the work grows more popular, Walter becomes more obsessed with the fame. He demands Margaret work harder, while he goes off to big parties, meeting celebrities, and flirting with women. Margaret eventually has enough, flees to Hawaii, where she proclaims that she is the true artist, and takes Walter to court.

Tim Burton has ventured into the biopic genre once before with "Ed Wood". That movie was pure Burton, with Depp & Lisa Marie & oddball characters. Burton specializes in human cartoon (Pee Wee Herman, Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka), but Margaret and Walter Keane are much more "normal" than Ed Wood ever was. The story is crazy, but felt like a regular biopic with the hero rising from nothing, reaching the top, crashing down, then getting redemption. The movie was completely one-sided, focusing solely on Margaret's story and portraying Walter as a talentless buffoon; I didn't expect a documentary, so I wasn't too bothered, but at times it still felt like they were making this guy into an over-the-top monster.

I'm not certain whether or not I liked Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz's roles. I could clearly envision Depp & Bonham-Carter playing these people, but on the flip I feel like that could have actually dragged things down because it would have just felt like another Tim Burton movie. I've still never seen the draw that Amy Adams has. I loved Waltz in his two Tarantino movies, but his style never felt comfortable this time.

I am perpetually fascinated with the nature of art - what makes "good" art, what makes "bad" art, what makes art profitable, whether art should be profitable at all. This movie circles some of those idea without getting too deep, but could still inspire some good artistic discussion if you watch it with the right crowd.

On the [Celluloid Hero] scale, "Big Eyes" gets a 6 out of 10.




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