Tim Burton is famously known for his distinctively gothic visual style and quirky, off-beat characters. Sadly, what once was a highly unique and refreshing approach to filmmaking has now become a niche for the director. With recent movies like “Alice in Wonderland” and “Dark Shadows”, one cannot help but feel that the virtuoso is simply cashing in on the gimmick of it all. He is just not pushing himself or taking risks anymore. However, his latest effort is a surprising return-to-form. Perhaps even his best since “Sleepy Hollow”.
“Big Eyes” tells the relatively true story of painter Margaret Keane, whose body of work was a commercial hotspot back in the 1950’s. They were all characterised by the same trait; big, expressive eyes showing pain, depression, hope and melancholy. Unfortunately, for many years, her husband got credit for all of it, as nobody at the time believed that women could sell art. But the bigger the lie gets, the more things start to escalate and fall apart. Will she ever get the rights to her paintings back? Will she forever be a shadow of her spouse?
I don’t know exactly what it is, but Burton somehow has the ability to turn biopics into not only eye-opening truth, but also just great popcorn entertainment. My theory is that the reason why movies like “The Imitation Game” and “The King’s Speech” never seem to soar, is because they all abide by the same set of pre-determined rules. They often run on auto-pilot, and you can always predict the outcome of the formulaic, safely written script, and the thinly drawn character arcs. What makes this film so different from others of its kind, is essentially the same thing that made “”Ed Wood” so fresh and memorable back in the days; the playfulness.
This is neither a realistic or even grounded look at real-life people. On the contrary, it is very whimsical and interpretative, creating its narrative from story rather than actual events. Things are deliberately blown up and stretched out to fit the director’s vision of a more colourful, exciting and audacious approach to the genre, while always staying true to the core of who Margaret Keane is, and what she went through to regain her dignity. The road to the conclusion may be far from your conventional line of dramaturgy, but in the end, the result is the same. The only difference is that with this one, you won’t forget who made it, why it was made, and what made it so appealing to watch.
From the very first shot, our eyes are treated with stunning cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel. Every frame is compositionally constructed with such delicacy, that the pure visuality alone is worth the price of admission. You really feel Burton’s style seeping into every scene, from the brightly lit neon-signs and slightly cartoony costumes, to the gorgeous, golden-brown backgrounds and carefully built set-pieces. Everything is so sprawling and full of life, which we don’t see too often within the biographical realm anymore, and with an Oscar-worthy score composed by Danny Elfman to go on top, there is absolutely no excuse for blocking your eyes and ears for even one moment.
But make no mistake. This is not just a pretty package with nothing inside of it. No, this is a all about the fascination of art, the people who make it, and the industry that reaps from it. Amy Adams is delightful and charming as our female protagonist, and brings so much warmth and humanity to Keane. She is shy and gullible, but also wilful and strong when she has to be, and that makes for one of the year’s most compelling, likeable and well-rounded female leads. Her husband, played by the immensely talented Christoph Waltz, provides a bitter counterpoint to the sweetness of Margaret, and although he may be overplaying his parts to ridiculous heights, it actually helps us understand what kind of a man he was; a sleazy, selfish, delusional con artist with no sense of right and wrong . Some of these qualities could easily have been lost in translation, had Waltz not taken such extreme measures to accomplish what he did. His performance works so enthrallingly, and the way he and Adams play off one another is the over-shadowing reason as to why this movie is as effective as it is.