Big Eyes (2014)

2016 #39
Tim Burton | 102 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA & Canada / English | 12 / PG-13

Big EyesAfter a smidgen of early awards buzz that pegged it as a dark-horse major contender (which obviously never materialised into anything), everyone seemed to stop talking about Big Eyes, Tim Burton’s latest, and the first thing he’s made in over a decade that doesn’t instantly strike you as an obvious Burton-esque choice.

It’s the true story of Margaret (Amy Adams), an amateur artist who ends up marrying Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), who also dabbles in painting. He manages to get their art publicly displayed, but while people don’t care about his French scenes, they love her huge-eyed waifs. For various reasons Keane claims them as his own, and before the couple know it the paintings are a pop culture phenomenon du jour, loved by the masses but despised by the critical establishment. Nonetheless, Keane reaps the fame and fortune of ‘his’ art — which Margaret is stuck at home churning out for her increasingly demanding and abusive husband…

It’s certainly a bizarre tale, and given even more of an otherworldly edge in Burton’s hands. He’s reined in here compared to his more fantastical leaps, but even when he does the real world it’s not quite our world (see also: Ed Wood). Nonetheless, it makes what could have been a slight tale more interesting than it would’ve been as a straight-up clean-cut biopic, even though it still runs a little long in the middle — the most interesting parts are the “how did that come about?!” setup and the famed denouement, where a court case culminates in a paint-off.

There’s thematic meat that could’ve filled the sandwich between those establishing and climactic, er, pieces of bread(?) — the tastes of critics versus the general public, and the disparity that exists there and what it means; or the inbuilt sexism of the era (though maybe everyone thought Mad Men had that covered) — but I’m not sure Burton was interested in such matters, at least not as much as he is in the kooky tale of some unusual characters and the odd turns of events that shape their lives.

It makes Big Eyes a very watchable and often diverting film, but not one to linger long in a viewer’s affections. A bit like the transitory impact of an artistic fad, then, which is at least apt.

4 out of 5

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