The eyes have it
Classic Elsternwick - Saturday 28 March 2015, 2:30pm
Running time: 106m
Country: United States
Classification: M (Mature themes and infrequent coarse language)
Release date: 19/03/15
Cost: $10 (Optus Rewards)
Rating: 6.5/10 (ME 3/5, DP 3.5/5)
After escaping an abusive husband, the young and newly single Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams) must eke out a living as an artist to support herself and her young daughter Jane (Delaney Raye) in the late 1950s. It is then that the struggling and naïve Margaret meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) a would-be artist, who sweeps her off her feet and ultimately marries her with the promise of a life of security and certainty. Margaret and Walter then collaborate to display and sell their paintings. As Margaret’s unique works are discovered, the biographical Big Eyes documents the troubled path they then take as Walter fraudulently claims to be the artist behind his new wife’s haunting, yet incredibly popular paintings of the children with ‘big eyes’ and “Keane” proceeds to become the highest selling and most popular artist of the era. We witness Margaret’s inner struggles with the lie the two concoct and perpetuate, as she churns out the increasingly sought after and valuable works while Walter settles into the life of a celebrity and bon vivant. The success of their industry generates incredible wealth and a very comfortable life for the couple, despite the underlying considerations of kitsch appeal and commercialism versus true artistry. The film plays through to the point when Margaret can no longer live with the lie.
This is an engaging true story, directed by Tim Burton. The 1950s/60s setting suits Burton’s retro-Americana approach to film, however his signature quirkiness was noticeably absent in a film that would have been perfectly positioned to embrace it. Big Eyes was nowhere near as visually playful, nor as whimsical as it could (or should) have been. It attempted to be historically accurate and faithful to the period, however there were some glaring inaccuracies and anachronisms that slipped through, none more so than a scene played out in what appeared to be a contemporary office corridor (far from its early 60s time placement). Amy Adams has had success in her role as Margaret Keane, winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical; and it was a worthy and affecting performance. Waltz was seen to be frequently overacting as the egocentric and delusional Walter, often over-shadowing Adams’ more controlled and restrained performance. His almost slapstick performance in a courtroom scene resulted in the momentum of what to that point had been a very likeable film, being lost. The remainder of the supporting cast were really little more than bit players, with perhaps Krysten Ritter as DeeAnn, Margaret’s sceptical and suspicious friend, being a notable exception as a somewhat feisty and less one-dimensional character. Terence Stamp as the dismissive art critic John Canaday was wasted and could have added so much more to this film in an expanded role.
Big Eyes was perhaps a victim of its own trailer; there were no surprises, twists or turns. Any regular film-goer who would have already seen the trailer on a number of occasions, had been provided with a neat synopsis of the entire film, rather than with tantalising glimpses of what may occur to keep them guessing. Questions of the merit of true artistic integrity vs kitsch appeal and crass commercialism were never answered. Haphazard performances and lack lustre production were at times further detractors from this film’s success. Big Eyes was a good film that unfortunately did not live up to expectations and could have been so much more. (DP)