The Hippo


Jul 15, 2019








Big Eyes (PG-13)

Big Eyes (PG-13)
Film Reviews By Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

Big Eyes (PG-13)

Artist Margaret Keane creates paintings that become internationally famous while her con-artist husband takes the credit in Big Eyes, a biopic starring Amy Adams and directed by Tim Burton.
Margaret (Adams) is a recently separated single-mom painter at a furniture company when she meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz). They have neighboring booths at an outdoor art fair — she is selling her portraits of big-eyed children and doing to-order sketches of kids at the fair; he is camping it up in striped-shirt Parisian artist garb and trying to charm people into buying his mediocre Paris streetscapes. He charms Margaret, and eventually they start hanging out together, painting on the weekends in the park. Or rather, Margaret paints her big-eyed children, Walter stands next to her with his canvas, waiting for inspiration to strike. It’s while hanging out in the park that Margaret learns that, while Walter may be a weekend painter, he is a weekday commercial real estate broker. Perhaps that sense of stability, though embarrassing to Walter, is what gets Margaret to say yes when he spur-of-the-moment proposes to her.
Still hopeful to get some traction in the art world, Walter convinces a jazz club owner to let him hang his and Margaret’s paintings on the wall. Though at first they don’t get much notice, eventually a patron, mesmerized by the big-eyed-child painting, decides to buy one. Because the painting’s signature only says “Keane” and because Walter is the one haunting the hallways to the bathroom where the paintings are hung, Walter takes credit for Margaret’s work.
At first Margaret wants Walter to set the record straight, but eventually she gives in to his insistence that the work will sell better if people believe he is the painter. The work isn’t universally beloved — the more rarefied art world views the big-eyed children as, at best, kitsch. But the public goes wild for the pieces, at first buying up the paintings and then buying up the reproduction prints as well, when Walter realizes he can make even more money by also selling to the masses who can’t afford an original piece.
Through it all, Margaret is deeply uncomfortable — annoyed that someone else is getting credit for her beloved creations and worried about all the lies she has to tell to keep the scam going. Because Walter insists that no one can know who is the real painter, Margaret even lies to her daughter Jane (Delaney Raye and later Madeleine Arthur) about who is painting what.
As in life, apparently, Waltz’s Walter, especially at his manic artiste peak, eclipses Adams’ Margaret. She spends a good 70 percent of the movie simply looking stricken and horrified while Waltz’s Walter whirls maniacally, trying to keep people from realizing how much of him is a facade. Waltz in particular gives the movie a zany, off-kilter edge that makes this story of a fraud and the strange, shy painter weirdly funny even when its being straightforward. Even when the movie doesn’t exaggerate the eyes of passersby, something in the way it’s shot always keeps everyone’s odd eyes highlighted.
This might not be a hyper-colored, Johnny Depp-style Tim Burton movie, but it has that Burton-y feel all the same. Something about Waltz’s Walter strongly calls to mind Ed Wood from Burton’s biopic of him, another post-war California-based weirdo whose abilities never matched his frustrated artist dreams.
In this season of big sweeping epics and glossy biopics, Big Eyes feels oddly slight. But the movie, like the loopy art at its center, has a muted wackiness and an oddball charm that draws you in. B
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language. Directed by Tim Burton with screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Big Eyes is an hour and 45 minutes, distributed by The Weinstein Company.

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