Reviews For Friends #16: Big Eyes

Reviews for Friends 17: Big Eyes

No Helena B-C in sight

Tim Burton’s latest, Big Eyes, is a dramatisation of the strange true life story of husband and wife ‘team’ Margaret and Walter Keane.

There are a few of the Burton hallmarks that give his films their signature identity, but aside from these this film is unrecognisable from his most recent string. We have the Danny Elfman score, the pastel identikit suburbia - and it is from this claustrophobia from which Margaret (a particularly doe-eyed Amy Adams) is escaping in the opening scenes. She leaves her husband (not the done thing in the 50s) packing up and driving her daughter to San Francisco, beautifully - yet of course a little melancholily - realised by Burton.

Here she meets real estate man and ‘sunday painter’, Walter Keane (histrionically played by Christopher Waltz) at a street fair where she is selling her wares as a child portrait artist - only in all of her portraits, the children come away with enormous black eyes. The pair enjoy a whirlwind romance and Walter, apparently bewitched by Margaret’s strange sad waifs, attempts to get her work into a gallery - cue an ever brilliant turn by Jason Schwartzman as a gallery owner - without success. But hustler that he is, Walter manages to get them on the walls of the Hungry I jazz club, and when a reporter overhears him arguing with the club’s owner the paintings start flying off the walls. At first by accident - perhaps - Walter takes the credit for the artwork, a turn of events on which he immediately capitalises and soon has Margaret holed up in a secret studio behind lock and key, surreptitiously producing more and more ‘Keane’s’ on demand as film stars start desiring her work. Despite critics deriding the paintings as kitsch (which they clearly are, more on that later) Walter starts making cheaply reproduced posters of the works, which are snapped up voraciously. Keane even has Warhol as a fan.

Despite the farcical frolicking of Walter and the fast-paced, jaunty relationship between the pair there lies a darkness underneath, and as the film progresses it becomes an altogether darker affair. Burton cleverly, although it is frustrating at points, plays the audience in this and we see events through Margaret’s (annoyingly and almost unbelievably) naive eyes. Painfully slowly do they open up to the full scale of her husband’s charade and the very real consequences.

In the penultimate scenes the husband tantalisingly unravels before our eyes, a welcome antidote to the froth of the film as a whole, and to the at times excruciatingly explanatory script which seems to have the cast explaining their feelings to us rather than acting them out.

Central to the film is, of course, the art - which is quite obviously terrible! With no prior knowledge of Margaret Keane or her work I couldn’t work out if Burton was being ironic with the choice of images in his film, and had to go away and Google afterwards. The cartoonish doll-like children really are as unbelievable as they seemed in the film, which just goes to show that sometimes life (and art) is stranger than fiction. Although with their eerie strangeness I can see why Tim Burton was drawn to them - they are almost like one of his animated creations.

Waltz is mesmerising in this Jekyll and Hyde of characters, delivering an exuberant, full-throttle performance - he must be exhausted.

Adams, although enchanting, is a little too dopey as the sidelined artist in hiding - the viewer has little sympathy for her.

A strange tale and, as a bit of a pastiche, very Warhol. Worth a watch.


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