Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Scott Alexander, Larry Karazewski
Starring Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp, John Polito
Tim Burton made his reputation as a director making films about weird and larger-than-life characters, with characters who were not particularly outre. Big Eyes was something of departure for him: a fairly straight biopic based on real events. Instead of strange characters, it has a bizarre story that makes it a fascinating film.
In the late 1950s, Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams) packs up her daughter and leaves her husband. Margaret is an artist, which only makes it harder for a woman trying to make her way. But she meets and marries Walter Keane (Chrisoph Waltz), an artist and real estate salesman, who recognizes that her paintings of children with oversized eyes might be successful.
They are, beyond their wildest dreams. But as time goes by, Walter begins to claim that he was the artist behind the paintings. Margaret is caught between wanting recognition for her work and fearing that if the truth came out, she would be party to fraud (since Walter told her she would).
Margaret is psychologically under the thumb of her manipulative husband, and Adams is wonderful at portraying her timidity and frustration. You understand that all she wants to do is paint and be recognized, but that Walter managed to manipulate all her fears to his own advantage.
Christoph Waltz has never put in a bad performance* and he wonderful here: oily, smarmy, doing everything to suck up and sell, and then becoming petulant and nasty when things don’t go his way. He’s charming at first, and clearly falls into his impersonation by accident until the image overtakes his common sense.
While this is different in tone from much of Burton’s work**, you can see the appeal: like many of his characters dating back to Edward Scissorhands, she is a creative type who is frustrated by the world around her.
The movie was a modest success, which is a kiss of death in this age of blockbusters. Amy Adams won a Golden Globe, but it was ignored by the Oscars and faded away.
But it’s a wonderful story about a woman finding the strength to get away from the toxic elements of her life.
*I was going to say he never had a bad movie, but he did do the execrable Horrible Bosses 2. He is the best thing about the movie by far. One thing I found illuminating: they showed bloopers during the credits. Most of the other actors blew lines, but Waltz’s was when there was a mechanical malfunction – and they immediately said it would go in the blooper reel. Which means he never actually blew a line.
**Burton actually collected Margaret’s big-eyed children before he joined the project.