Big Eyes is Tim Burton’s least Burtonesque movie yet – and that’s a good thing

Big Eyes

‘Big Eyes’ is a delightful movie of a real life artist and the struggle to be noticed for something worthwhile.


When you have created something, you have an attachment to it. For art, that is just as true. Not only that, but there is a conflict inherent in the creation of art; money versus substance. Sometimes you are lucky enough to have something that touches a nerve or interests a crowd, and that’s a great thing. But it’s easy to fall into enjoying success without thinking about why you were successful in the first place? Some might say that success implies quality, but others may assert that money isn’t everything. Sometimes art doesn’t stand the test of time because it wasn’t that good to begin with, or because it just only meant something once, but never again. Even so, every artist has one thing in common: They want people to know they were the creator.

Big Eyes is the latest movie from director Tim Burton and tells the true story of Margaret Keane, the artist of a very popular series of paintings of children with unusually large eyes. However, her husband Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) specifically took credit for the art and sold it under his name when the pieces came out in the late 1950s and 1960s. Up until his death, Walter insisted that he was the true artist, although the evidence against him was staggering. Margaret starts the story leaving her first husband and traveling with her daughter to San Francisco, seeking something she can’t yet define. Her work is noticed by Walter, who claims to be a fellow artist. After her work gets a lot of attention, Walter decides that nobody will buy a painting drawn by a lady. Heaven forbid!

So they sold work under his name, Walter schmoozing up the elite and monetizing the art, while Margaret slaved away in anonymity and craved acknowledgment of her own. Of course, art critics panned the drawings, but most people loved them and the Keanes became quite wealthy. Until Margaret could take no more of it, and no more of Walter’s increasingly unstable behavior. The movie tells this story, showing Walter to be a charismatic man with some serious, deep-seated issues, with Margaret trying to escape her mentality as a 1950s housewife.

There are moments of real drama here, watching Amy Adams do that “silent soulful” thing she does so well.

Tim Burton’s interesting and unique visual aesthetics are nowhere to be found here, except for one particular scene that I won’t spoil. But in many ways, this could be directed by anybody of talent, because the movie doesn’t really have a recognizable style. Perhaps there’s something to that in the take on the big eyes children, but perhaps not. The story itself is dramatized, but interesting. I didn’t know exactly what would happen, so seeing the crazy twists and turns that actually happened were quite entertaining. There are moments of real drama here, watching Amy Adams do that “silent soulful” thing she does so well.

I particularly enjoyed her performance, although I also liked Christoph Waltz. I’ve heard some people complain about it, but I don’t get that myself. His character was odd, sociopathic at times, and the performance reflected that. I guess I just don’t get people sometimes. There are a few smaller parts filled by enjoyable, talented actors, like Krysten Ritter as Margaret’s best friend who’s being pushed away, and Jason Schwartzman and Terrence Stamp as art critics that despise the big eyes children pieces.

In the spate of two hour long prestige pictures at the end of the year, I was glad to see a movie under two hours that had a decent pace and kept me interested, for the most part. Perhaps we could’ve dipped more into the depth of certain parts of Margaret’s struggles and less on Walter’s marketing, but to me it works quite well. A few dramatic moments, some lightness, and a satisfying ending. Perhaps it’s not as interesting to look at as Burton’s other movies, but that’s really okay with me.

Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company
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