Big Eyes (2014) (PG-13)

"Big Eyes" is perhaps the most "normal" of all of Tim Burton's movies and I do use that word knowing exactly what it implies. It is and it is not at the same time. Surely, the antics of the director are kept at bay long enough for us to enjoy what seems like a pretty straight forward narrative; yet the story itself is anything but normal and typical. What Burton does is manage to make the art world seem complex and fascinating and that in of itself is kind of an accomplishment, mainly because Burton doesn't focus on the intricacies of the world he views and instead makes sure that the story and the main character is the pivotal point.
Margaret (Amy Adams) is the first person we see and she starts the movie by leaving her husband. With her daughter in tow, she moves to California to be with her sister DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter) and to escape. In the sunny state, she spends her time trying to find a job and painting. Much like the title implies, the paintings that Margaret brings to life are just children with big eyes. She's essentially a one-trick-pony in that respect; but that doesn't stop her from painting constantly.
While out in the park on a show day, Margaret meets the charming and smarmy Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) who is so enamored by her and her work that he demands an audience with her, which she gives to him. It's only on the first date that he declares his undying love for her and she is left wondering whether she's made a huge mistake or not.
But it doesn't take long before Walter has worked his magic once again and she is swept off her feet by his words. When her ex threatens to take her daughter, Jane, away from her, Walter swoops in and marries her so they won't have to part. What a romantic!
Still, we all now that this won't have a happy ending, mainly because the tagline for the movie tells you the whole story without much shame.
Luck strikes the Keanes when one day Margaret's paintings are noticed for their eerie quality. Walter unwittingly claims himself as the painter of Margaret's work and then receives some money for her work. This isn't a lightbulb moment like the trailers might imply. There is a lot to the thought process of Walter that we are privy to. He struggles with his own inability to paint what the masses want and with being married to someone far more talented than he is.
The movie begins with "based on a true story" which makes you think "yeah, right..." I mean "Lee Daniels' the Butler" was based on a true story and look what that did to the man's life. But the movie opens with a quote from Andy Warhol praising Keane's work. That makes the viewer pause and wonder. Now yes, there is a lot of creative liberty here. but it is just the right amount that the end result feels truthful.
Okay, moving on....
Walter beings to gain notoriety for Margaret's work and by this time it's become almost too late to do anything about it. Margaret is such a naive character and so trusting that she lets him walk over her and take the one thing that means the most to her: her art.
"Big Eyes" is rather straight forward (as previously mentioned). There are no splendid claymation moments or a dark song thrown in for good measure. Instead, Burton relies on his actors and their performances which can only be described as stellar. Amy Adams gives one of her best turns here, supplying the emotional core of the movie. A likable, natural, and entirely relatable character, the whole movie builds to a moment in which Margaret can stand up for herself and we all cheer when she does so.
But what makes it good?
The film looks effortlessly good and feels natural to the time period. It has strong performances (Waltz tends to go too far sometimes) and a wonderful score by Danny Elfman.
It's so easy to watch, a near perfect viewing experience. Not too taxing, yet not paper-thin.

Score: ★★★½

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