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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » Big Eyes
Big Eyes
The Weinstein Company // PG-13 // December 25, 2014
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted December 18, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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Tim Burton is not only known as a filmmaker, but as an artist who applies his strange signature style to nearly every picture that he's involved with. Especially when looking at his most recent films, he's been considered fairly "hit-and-miss." Most of his work is rooted in fantasy, as he has become known to bring audiences into various different intriguing worlds. While the upcoming Big Eyes occasionally has elements of dream-like execution, it's much more rooted within reality than Burton's previous works. This time, he's working with a biopic in The Weinstein Company's hopeful Oscar picture. Enlisting tremendous talents in front of the camera, is this Tim Burton's masterpiece, or Oscar bait that has been made to dangle in front of Academy members?

Big Eyes follows the story of painter Margaret (Amy Adams), and her unexpected successes in the 1950s. After leaving her husband with her young daughter, she meets a charming fellow artist by the name of Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz). They are quickly married, but he begins to show his true colors when he starts to take credit for her art pieces. This leads to a series of legal difficulties that places Walter in the spotlight, and Margaret in the shadow with a haunting secret that could destroy their entire empire, if it were to be revealed.

Screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski tell this story from the perspective of Margaret from when she leaves her husband with young Jane (Delaney Raye). Since she's unemployed, she has absolutely no idea how she plans to financially support her household. She has difficulty finding a job with her given talent as an artist, but ultimately finds one that will help pay the bills. When she receives a letter in the mail regarding Jane's father trying to gain sole-custody, she must marry if she hopes to keep her child. Walter happens to have come into her life at the perfect time, although her best friend, DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter) is skeptical of this man. However, Margaret insists that he's a blessing. Since this is based upon a true story, the audience is hundreds of steps ahead of Margaret, making all of her errors with her husband even more clear. However, she still proves to be a tremendously sympathetic character that we want to see succeed. She's incredibly sincere, and the audience shares her pain when she forces herself to lie to her daughter for the first time in order to hide her secret. Walter continues to convince her that if anybody else knows about their scam, then they are guaranteed to lose everything. Meanwhile, viewers will instantly despise Walter for his taking credit for his wife's work, even despite his charming personality that simply begs for attention. The story that occurred between these two individuals most certainly deserves the big screen treatment, as it manages to be engaging from start to finish.

This proves to be more than a biopic, but also a motion picture with a message to tell. It's all about the "little white lie" that continues to build. We're all told as children how telling one of these seemingly harmless lies can create a "snowball effect." This holds true in this artist's case. Each one that Margaret finds herself telling, it deeply impacts her, as her happiness continues to gradually fade. This is a huge contrast from her husband, who has no regrets when it comes to bending the truth. This is a powerful theme that Big Eyes should have focused on. Rather, Alexander and Karaszewski attempt to constantly bring a sense of humor to the story. While there are a few laughs to be had, they don't entirely fit within the story. This is a drama, after all, so we're left waiting for the film to impact us. Unfortunately, this feeling is maintained throughout the duration of the picture. By the time that it finally decides to deal with some of the more serious elements of the plot, any possible emotions that would have been felt have been thwarted by the picture's misdirection. It feels as if Big Eyes is constantly holding its audience at a distance, as it refuses to allow viewers to feel an emotional connection with the story. Outside of the characters and the messages themselves, it simply feels empty.

Whether this film works for you will largely depend upon your feelings about Walter. The screenplay heavily focuses upon his reactions to the story's ongoings from Margaret's perspective, rather than simply telling her story. Watching Walter try and convince others of these portraits can be quite funny, but what are those laughs worth to you? Those who are captivated by this man's charms will likely find this to be an effective piece of storytelling about a pathological liar. This isn't really a film about Margaret, or her artwork, but rather the insanity that took place as a result. However, by the third act, this point-of-view gets a bit tiring. Just before the credits begin to roll, the screenwriters seem to suddenly remember that this is a biopic about a woman who started a movement, and nobody even knew it. Ultimately, this is a film that finds its major successes in moments. It has occasional sequences of brilliance that truly resonate with viewers, although they come in small doses. When we're exposed to these bits, they truly provide something special. It's just a shame that there couldn't be more of them.

The performances certainly provide the motion picture with the impact that the screenplay is lacking. Each member of the cast truly plays up to Margaret's reasons for drawing such pronounced eyes in stating that the, "eyes are the window to the soul." There's plenty of acting from the eyes, simply elevating the picture. Amy Adams is a revelation as Margaret Keane. She's an incredibly compelling center to this story, as she provides the sense of humanity that the feature desperately needed. Christoph Waltz is perfect in the role of Walter Keane. While he has the charisma required for the part, he once again displays a dynamic sense of range that's unique to him. The humor comes naturally to Waltz, as his delivery is incredibly effective. Krysten Ritter is underutilized as DeeAnn, but she's good in the few scenes that we see her in. These are outstanding performances that will surely provide the picture with some Oscar buzz.

While not necessarily in a fantastical world, Tim Burton finds a way to bring his visual signature to Big Eyes. There are dozens of landscape shots throughout the picture's duration, and each one has the breath-taking appearance of a painting. The color palette within the cinematography is incredibly bright and colorful, providing the picture with a cheerful tone that has a nice contrast with the deceitful nature of the plot. Not only does the cast act with their eyes, but Burton brings our attention to the various souls found through these metaphorical windows. Each shot makes sense, and Burton truly brings a lot to the table here. Big Eyes features two incredibly fitting songs recorded by Lana Del Rey. Her beautifully haunting songs contribute to Margaret's story in the best ways possible.

Big Eyes turns out to be charming and incredibly relevant to modern times. Its theme of the "little white lie" feels so magnificently human, although Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski's screenplay doesn't entirely capitalize on its greatest strength. Rather, it emotionally distances itself from the audience, creating a disconnect that truly hinders the film from being impactful. While the humor generates some laughs, it sacrifices some great material in order to generate some chuckles. Nevertheless, Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz turn in triumphant performances that prove to be both captivating and effective. With five Oscar nominations, perhaps we're finally getting close to seeing Adams take the golden statue. Big Eyes tells a compelling story, but its lack of an emotional impact is disappointing. Rent it.

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