Movie Review: Big Eyes

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MV5BMjA2ODM5MDE3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTIxNjc1MzE@._V1_SX214_AL_A strange true story, “Big Eyes” documents the story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams, “American Hustle,” “Man of Steel”), a successful, closet painter in the golden era of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Leaving her husband with her daughter in tow, Margaret starts a new life in San Francisco and struggles to get by, displaying her paintings for sale and underpricing them at local fairs.  Margaret, as many women during that period, has never had her own life and feels backed into a corner when her ex-husband wants to get custody of their daughter.  A smarmy real estate salesman and Sunday painter, Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), charms his way into her life and the two soon marry.

Initially the Keanes try to sell their paintings individually.  Hers, inspired by her daughter, are paintings of children with waif figures and big, hollow eyes.  His are street-and-building scenes based on his time in Paris – or so he says.  An encounter with a patron of a club where their paintings are displayed leads to a misunderstanding as to who paints those big-eyed children pictures.  And when an incident lands one of the paintings on the front page of a newspaper, Walter, an aggressive self-promoter and aspiring artist, proclaims that he is the painter, not his wife.

Fame and fortune follow.  That one recognition opens the door to a ton of other opportunities.  The Keanes are now able to open their own gallery and lead a cushy lifestyle.  Walter is the driver behind all the promotion, from connecting to public figures and media, and eventually gets Margaret’s paintings mass-produced and sold all over the world – all the while taking full credit for his wife’s work.

At first, Margaret is reluctantly supportive of their charade, but then grows resentful and miserable, and becomes estranged from her daughter, who knows the truth.  Lies that enormous could only last for so long.  While Margaret knows she married a huckster, she’s forced to leave everything behind when Walter reveals his violent temper, following an altercation with a top art critic (Terrence Stamp,”The Adjustment Bureau“).  The scene is surprisingly chilling.

Starting over like a blank canvas in another state, living away from Walter and getting close to her daughter again, subservient Margaret at last musters up the courage to tell the truth to the world and brings Walter to court.  The courtroom scene feels preposterously staged, but is admittedly amusing.

Waltz performs his con-artist role with overexaggerated gestures, like a caricature in parts.  Adams is the real artist here, making her a contender to Rosamund Pike’s performance in “Gone Girl” and Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything” for an Oscar nomination. Margaret’s repressed, conflicted emotions are subtly shown through her delicate features and vocal tones, beginning with a single look when Margaret first realizes her husband’s deception.  To her, art is personal and touches lives, not simply a commodity that is sold at the right place and price.
“Big Eyes” is a curiously conventional picture from director Tim Burton, known for his fantasy-based films.  The opening scenery appears almost like a painting and the rest is sun-dappled, candy-colored and polished.  A melodrama with a comic touch, “Big Eyes,” is not meant to be a masterpiece, rather, an entertaining piece of art.

Copyright (c) 2015. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at [email protected].

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