REVIEW: “Big Eyes”

This is a movie I’ve wanted to see for a while. Because, well, Amy Adams is in it. I love me some Amy Adams. I have ever since she played Cousin Beth in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Anya slapped her down for not knowing what kind of demon Tara was supposed to be. (Yeah. I’m that geek.) Adams’ work since then has been quite spectacular and I’m always interested in what she is going to do next.

Big Eyes

The trailer and story behind the movie Big Eyes fascinated me. Admittedly, prior to hearing about or seeing this movie, I had not heard of Margaret and Walter Keane. But I had faint recollections of seeing the artwork. Very faint, in fact. Still, I was intrigued and looked forward to the movie’s release. Of course, Amy Adams was the biggest draw for me. But I’ve liked Christoph Waltz in past films. So that was an added bonus.

While I can’t say that I was disappointed in Big Eyes, I will say that it wasn’t quite what I expected.

I was actually surprised to learn that the movie was directed by Tim Burton. Now, I’m not a huge fan of Burton’s, but I have enjoyed many of his movies. Burton played it surprisingly straight (for him) with Big Eyes. He directed the film without over-conceptualized sets and technicolor-on-crack scenery. Thank goodness! Only once did I notice a “Burton-esque” tactic and I actually thought it was rather appropriate at that juncture in the film. (Since it’s in the trailer, I’m not spoiling anything by saying it’s when Margaret Keane is in the grocery store and everyone around her has “big eyes.”)

The story itself if decidedly one-sided. It’s all from Margaret Keane’s viewpoint. I don’t think this is a drawback to the film at all, but it is an interesting choice. In many ways, it demonizes Walter Keane to an extreme degree. Perhaps that’s appropriate, perhaps it’s not. But it’s certainly noteworthy. It points to Walter as a purely evil villain and to Margaret as a dominated victim. And while part of that may be true, I don’t think it’s the whole story. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the story is untrue. Clearly, there is plenty of documentation to highlight the facts in the film. But I think there’s more happening here that could have been explored.

The highlight of the movie was Adams’ performance. She didn’t disappoint. Her portrayal of Margaret Keane was nicely layered and engaging. It’s clear that she wanted to “do right” by the real Margaret Keane (who is still alive). Interestingly, like the paintings, the true performance here was through the eyes. Adams didn’t have a lot of dialogue in the film. Margaret was played as a woman who was quiet and introverted…and easily dominated and deceived. Adams has a knack for communicating so much through the use of her eyes and facial expressions. That certainly served her well in Big Eyes.

I will say with certainty that I was disappointed in Christoph Waltz’s performance. It was far too over the top. From the moment he appears on screen, it’s far too obvious that he’s slimy and manipulative. And his performance just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger throughout the movie. Walter Keane became a caricature. Based on this, I found that I was disliking Margaret Keane for being so profoundly naive and blind. And I don’t think that was the intention. Otherwise, why have her as the “good guy” in the film? The effect of this overacting on Waltz’s part was that he became comical and two-dimensional. Wholly at odds with Adams’ performance and, again, casting a bad light on Margaret Keane. The others in the audience with me were rather vocal – calling out to the action on the screen. “Oh, girl! You can’t seriously be doing that!” “That woman just don’t know what she’s doing.” And that was toward the beginning of the movie.

Overall, this isn’t a bad movie. But it definitely could have been better. Yes, go see it for the intriguing story and Adams’ performance. But I recommend the matinee. Don’t pay full price.

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