DVD Review - Big Eyes

This is a movie about a woman who constantly retreats and runs away from her problems finally confronting her issues and standing up for herself. This is about a woman finding her voice, not only creatively but also socially. There is a comparison to be made between this and the movie about another real-life, female artist who was also never properly recognized for her work, though for vastly different reasons, that of Finding Vivian Maier. This movie could be dubbed "Finding Margaret Keane."

Five-time Oscar-nominee Amy Adams (The Fighter and American Hustle) stars as Margaret Ulbrich, a painter who married Walter Keane, a man who started to pretend that his wife's paintings were his own and lied about it for the better part of a decade, from the late 50's into the early 60's. Margaret escaped as a single mother with her daughter Jane from a presumptive, abusive relationship to San Francisco where Walter provided a place for her to land when her options were few.

Two-time Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained) co-stars as Walter Keane, a real estate agent and aspiring painter who sees that Margaret's paintings are attracting more attention, so he decides to take them as his own. He's so charming and a bon vivant that he's able to fool or convince people to go along with his lies.

The craftiness of the screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski is that it doesn't totally portray Walter as an evil villain at least not at first. It doesn't make him a maniacal thief. He seizes upon an opportunity and lies in order to do it, which was wrong, but it's not as if Margaret is kept in the dark. She is fully aware of what Walter is doing, and she even has the opportunity and power to stop him, but she doesn't initially.

On a psychological level, the movie works as the dominance of Walter's personality and the submissiveness of Margaret's. As such, Waltz gets the showier role and the more grandiose moments. Any and all are more drawn to him. His shining moment is the trial at the end, which is just nothing but a showcase for Waltz to devour the screen, so much that you forget Adams is even in the film.

The screenplay might lose too much sight of Margaret in terms of fueling her complicity. She goes along with Walter's lie almost because the plot demanded her too. Her undefined past, which put her on the run in the first place, meaning her ex-husband whom we never see, as well as the time period of pre-Women's Liberation, set the table, but a bit more digging would have been preferred.

Directed by Tim Burton, the production design and cinematography are of course impeccable, bright and colorful. It harkens back to his Edward Scissorhands (1990) days. He's dwelled in CGI-land for a while, relying on a lot of computer special effects. This film brings him back to Earth with real objects and places. It's beautiful and at times literally eye-popping.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 45 mins.


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