Tim Burton made a colorful comedy-drama? Is he well?
His newest take to the silver screen is “Big Eyes,” based on the real-life drama surrounding artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) and her swindler husband, Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz, who plays a more bombastic role). While living in San Francisco in the 1960s, Walter supposedly painted a series of paintings depicting wide-eyed children or “waifs.” Much to the surprise of the art community, the series became immensely popular and earned him a huge amount of money and celebrity. In 1970, Margaret announced to the world via radio from Hawaii that she was the true painter, which was later proven in a dramatic lawsuit.
Although the film is billed as a comedy-drama, it progressively changes genres as the narrative unravels. At one point, it’s a heartwarming (albeit a little rushed) romantic comedy, then it switches to an angst-filled drama, before suddenly segueing into a thankfully brief scene that feels like something out of a B-grade slasher film. “Big Eyes” ends on the courtroom battle that defined and concluded the Keane vs. Keane conflict. While the genre-switches do their part to portray the deterioration of the Keane relationship, the aforementioned wannabe slasher bit felt too goofy and out-of-place to be taken seriously.
Waltz’s and Burton’s characterization of Walter Keane aids the film in a “not to be taken seriously” path. Waltz portrays Walter as a charming, kind man whose touch with fame and fortune turns him into a monster. A seriously sociopathic monster, apparently, as evidenced by the scenes when he attempts to stab an art-critic (Terence Stamp) in the face with a fork. Afterward, he throws a temper tantrum and then attempts to burn his wife and stepdaughter alive inside his own house, all while peeking through the keyhole and giddily proclaiming, “I see you!” Walter Keane may have been a con-artist and a jerk, but it’s doubtful that he was a murderously gleeful psychopath.
Adams, however, manages to carry the film, convincingly showing Margaret’s disillusionment with her husband’s behavior and the sorrow she feels as someone else takes credit for her work. She also imbues a good dose of anxiety that actually manages to make Walter intimidating at times; the effect he has on her takes a visible toll. Adams handled her character development excellently.
“Big Eyes” also endearingly captures retro San Francisco: the bright colors, the clothes, the cars, the snobby attitudes that put modern art on a pedestal and rejected everything else. It’s all there. It’s done so well, it’s almost like watching an extended “Mad Men” episode. The movie’s visual palette is, to sum it up, a work of art (excuse the cheesiness).
While the film is tonally inconsistent, and Waltz is a bit too hammy, “Big Eyes” does a good enough job of telling the story, and the parts of the film that are good are really, really good. It’s an interesting new addition to Burton’s usually Gothic group of films.
Alex Wehrung eagerly awaits the return of “Mad Men.”