Movie review: Burton has "Big Eyes" for story of artist Margaret Keane

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

It is by no means unusual this time of year — after all, it is “Awards Season” — but theaters seem especially awash in those important biopics. “Unbroken,” “Wild,” “The Theory of Everything” and “The Imitation Game” are currently in the mix, joined in the next few weeks by “Selma” and “American Sniper.”

In that crowded field, Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes” stands out for being warmer and more crowd-pleasing than the competition. It certainly helps that this story is right in Burton’s unique wheelhouse, telling a true story that seems too weird to be real.

Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) was a single mother and aspiring artist in the 1950s when she met and married Walter (Christoph Waltz). Walter, a natural-born self-marketer/con man, begins selling Margaret’s works as his own.

The works of “Walter Keane” soon become a pop-art phenomenon, with prints available to the point of ubiquity. Soon the lie becomes larger than life, and the Keanes become rich and famous.

I was excited for Burton’s first return to biopic since what I consider his best film, “Ed Wood.” That comparison is lofty (and probably unfair), and “Big Eyes” is not of that caliber.

Both lead performances also can be filed under “good work but not their best.” I love watching Adams when she stretches from her quiet exterior. The time period creates its own restraint. She bubbles beneath the surface more than she explodes.

Waltz, on the other hand, gets to play big and bold. His Walter always wears a charming grin that distracts from his devious nature. Waltz gets to be both funnier and angrier than Adams, and he relishes the range. It’s somehow appropriate that his Walter tries to make Margaret’s story about himself.

This is Burton making Oscar-bait, but it’s still got that air of Burton weirdness. The late ’50s/early ’60s setting fits with his sensibility, and this is the rare movie that I’d recommend solely on the set design.

“Big Eyes” touches on some big themes — feminist ideas emerging from the suppressive ’50s, the intersection of art and commerce — as well as a true-life con story. It falls among Burton’s good work, but not his best.

Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company

"Big Eyes"

Opens Christmas Day

3 stars out of 4