To simply call “Big Eyes” a Tim Burton motion picture is a little bit of a bait and swap. Legitimate, Burton directed the movie, whose subject matter, the painter Margaret Keane, he has very long admired. Ideal recognized for her sticky-sweet paintings of doe-eyed waifs that became the middlebrow rage in the late 1950s and 1960s, then kitschy collectibles of large-ironic type many years later, Keane would seem like the best matter for Burton: a visible-art analogue to filmmaker Ed Wooden, to whom Burton paid out homage so gloriously in a 1994 movie.
Although suffused with very similar period layout things, “Big Eyes” does not strategy the chic or subversive heights of “Ed Wooden.” Created by Scott Alexander and Larry Karazsewski, the movie has a a lot a lot more conventionally uplifting come to feel, which most likely fits its protagonist more than the regular Burton mix of worship and winking playfulness.
Portrayed by Amy Adams in a restrained, mouselike effectiveness, Keane will come throughout as sympathetic but not terribly deep, an admirably hardworking solitary mom interested in numerology and spirituality, but much too skittish and scared to verbalize what drives and frightens her the most. As with Reese Witherspoon’s character in “Wild,” it is the woman journey of self-discovery and empowerment that “Big Eyes” is fascinated in. For Keane, that journey was a person from set-upon housewife and weekend painter to victim of a managing partner and patriarchal art entire world, finally getting to be the common-bearer for saying the social house she when passively ceded to sexism and self-doubt.
Admittedly, that’s an engrossing, even awe-inspiring trip. “Big Eyes” commences in the late 1950s, when Keane — then Margaret Ulbrich — leaves her partner and their northern California tract house with her daughter and portfolio in tow. She lands in San Francisco’s North Seaside neighborhood, attaining work as a business artist. (As symbolism would have it, her job entails virtually crawling back into the crib to painstakingly paint Humpty Dumpty on the headboard.) At the very same she begins striving to offer luridly sentimental images of significant-eyed urchins, in the midst of summary expressionism at its most macho and heroic.
Margaret is uncovered a single working day by a fellow would-be bohemian, Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a happy-handing gadabout who one moment scolds her for undervaluing herself and the subsequent proposes to her, insisting that she ought to be treated like a princess. These types of is the dialectic that pushes and pulls Margaret in the course of “Big Eyes,” which chronicles how Walter arrived to acquire credit for her function and mastermind its mass replica, an act of artistic and professional fraud that culminated in a blockbuster demo in 1970.
As with Keane’s beguiling, appear-hither ragamuffins, it is difficult not to like “Big Eyes,” which offers its heroine as a genuine, if self-effacing proto-feminist pioneer. The precise good quality of her art only comes into problem by way of artwork critic John Canaday (played, with icy hauteur, by Terence Stamp). Whilst the Keanes are staying commissioned by the likes of Joan Crawford and Natalie Wood, Canaday fulminates from the operates of an “appalling, grotesque, tasteless hack.” This is why modern society desires critics, he rants, “to defend them from these types of atrocities.” (Amen, brother.)
“Big Eyes” is technically and aesthetically beautiful. Plainly in enjoy with the groovy shade palettes and streamlined contours of the era, Burton provides “Big Eyes” with number of of his signature imaginative touches, help you save for a couple of creepy hallucinations, just one staged upcoming to the Brillo containers and Campbell’s Soup cans that would soon encourage Andy Warhol.
But, as provocative as the issues it raises are — questions about connoisseurship vs. populism, personal expression vs. the market place, and the dark arts of press, publicity and shrewd self-invention — the film’s achievements continue to be on the surface area of those people themes relatively than plunging further. Burton and the screenwriters skate along the particulars of the plot — and admittedly, it is a whopper — even though Waltz hams it up with an in excess of-ingratiating performance, his confront forever plastered with a lupine, opportunistic grin. Like Walter himself, Waltz continuously hijacks “Big Eyes,” overcompensating for Adams’s low-key efficiency by getting massive, bullying bites out of every sun-kissed scene he in which he appears.
Meanwhile, Margaret stays meekly in the background, even when she eventually starts to obtain and use her very own voice. Chalk it up to her native Southern gentility, further wellsprings of humility and serene self-self-assurance — or Adams’s very own tentative, flat-affect portrayal — but the heroine of what Burton obviously supposed as a actual-existence feminist parable continues to be surprisingly inert in the course of her have tale, a stance belied by the nonetheless-crucial determine the artist, now in her 80s, presents today.
Then again, possibly the best way to get Margaret Keane significantly — if not as a painter, then as a revolutionary icon — is to depart her mysteries intact. “Big Eyes” presents viewers with the impression of a woman who, like the heroine in “Wild,” manages to faucet her deepest unhappiness to uncover the resource of her best toughness.
★ ★ ★
PG-13. At place theaters. Incorporates thematic aspects and profanity. 105 minutes.