It’s pretty, and it seems very personal for director Tim Burton, but I can’t help but feel that he was the wrong person to bring the story of artist Margaret Keane to the big screen with “Big Eyes”. For one, it doesn’t feel like it’s about Margaret, with a huge amount of screen time being devoted to her fraudulent husband, Walter Keane, and the often pleasurable histrionics of actor Christoph Waltz. Often pleasurable I say, because its overkill here. Mr. Waltz is the holder of two Oscars–both for Quentin Tarantino films. But QT knows how to utilize Waltz, and Burton obviously wasn’t certain when to reign Christoph in. He’s fun, he’s interesting–but his Walter belongs in another film altogether. And what’s with that narrator character? Voiced by Danny Huston, it feels sporadic and incomplete. Huston’s reporter role of Dick Nolan appears in the film too, but his flitting in and out of the picture is as inconsequential as his numbing vocal overlay. Why narrate it at all? Burton’s made some odd choices here.
Artist Margaret Ulbrich (played by chameleon Amy Adams) leaves her first husband in the late 1950’s, lands an unsatisfactory job as a furniture illustrator, and paints on the side to help make ends meet in raising her young daughter. Soon, she is swept off her feet by the unique, flamboyant, “Parisian-trained”, Walter Keane, who praises her distinctive style of art–containing paintings of young people with big saucer-like eyes. Walter, a mediocre scenic artist, does have a knack for salesmanship and promotion. And before long, he’s convinced Margaret that the best way to distribute and proliferate her work, is for him to pass it off as his own. Quiet and non-confrontational, Margaret reluctantly gives in to the whim of her persuasive and energetic spouse, and before long Walter manages to turn Margaret’s work into an artistic movement that rivals that of Andy Warhol–and makes the Keanes millions of dollars. Increasingly erratic, and with a penchant for booze, parties, and hanging out with movie stars, Walter lives the high life while Margaret slaves away creating endlessly–locked away in a back room in their swank California estate. But eventually, enough is enough, and Margaret Keane seeks an escape route.
Amy Adams seems like the correct choice for Margaret, in a role that was once to be played by Reese Witherspoon (who ironically got an Oscar nomination for “Wild” in 2014, while AA’s “Big Eyes” work was passed over after Adams grabbed a Golden Globe). Maybe a bit too tremulous at times, Adams still manages to impress in a difficult role–one that’s often spent parrying Waltz’s eccentric blustering. But Danny Huston seems like an afterthought as Dick Nolan, and the expressive Jon Polito is nearly wasted as club owner Enrico Banducci. And Terence Stamp glowering as art critic John Canaday–why did Burton bother? Stamp simply postures. No surprise, with Burton at the helm, that “Big Eyes” too often feels like an overstuffed animation feature. Of, course, with Bruno Delbonnel’s vivacious cinematography, the film is always wonderful to look at, but it lacks substance and depth. Burton’s black-and-white bio of “Ed Wood”, 20 years prior, remembered to be both over-the-top and poignant. “Big Eyes”, on the other hand, is almost all cartoon.