Dr. Donna Copeland’s



Big Eyes

 ​Not sure why everyone is knocking Jason Reitman for losing his edge when Tim Burton seems to have lost his a long time ago. It's never so obvious as with his latest disappointment, Big Eyes. It must be noted that this is the first time Burton (Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland) has made a film without Helena Bonham Carter or Johnny Depp in about a decade. In his second biopic, Burton releases all of the elements that one associates with a Tim Burton film. If you missed the opening credits, you might think you have walked into the Lifetime melodrama of the week. Poor Amy Adams is horribly miscast in this whimpering, pathetic female role. Of course Waltz is once again cast as the overbearing villain. Enough already, play something different!

 ​With her paintings in the trunk and daughter in the backseat, Margaret Ulbrich (Adams) left her husband in Tennessee and headed west to San Francisco to start a new life. Before she could even get acquainted with freedom she was married to local scum bucket artist Walter Keane (Waltz) who promised to provide security. The day Walter realized that Margaret’s paintings of children with extraordinarily large eyes were more popular than his and could actually sell, he started taking credit for her paintings; after all, she was signing them as ‘Keane’, which was his last name too. They agreed to keep the secret: she stayed home and painted while he sold the work around the world. She realized she couldn’t lie anymore, so with her paintings in the trunk and daughter in the backseat…

 ​There isn’t much to learn from Big Eyes; it’s certainly not an inspiring story, and no one in this tale does anything extraordinary. Perhaps this was the era where famous women learned to keep their maiden name after they were married to protect their career. The issue I had with the film wasn’t just the fact that Burton feels completely uninspired with the material, but that anyone would want to produce a film about two really pathetic characters. Margaret is just as much to blame for being a bad mother and a pushover as Walter is for being such a sleaze-ball, and Waltz sure does dig into the sleaze. Neither actor delivers anything substantial here, least of all Adams.

 ​By the third act this becomes a ridiculous court room scene, it’s clear this story would have been better off as an hour long documentary instead of a thoughtless feature. Anyone could have directed this stale piece of material; the fact that Burton, a once articulate visionary, is attached is almost like false advertising. I remember when the first images of the film debuted and Oscar buzz for Adams, who typically gets kudos for nearly every role she does, but that ended real quick when people actually started reviewing the film. Big Eyes is just lackluster in every way and likely to put a big dent in Burton’s diminishing career as he returns to sequels to keep himself occupied.

 Final Thought – One of the year’s biggest disappointments based on the director and cast.

 Grade C-

By: Dustin Chase

This is a surprising production from the usually clever, inventive Tim Burton.  I’m not sure what about this story attracted him.  It’s a bit ironic that it’s a story about a very fine salesman without an ounce of creativity (except in dreaming up false accounts).  Missing are the quirky characters and plots that Burton has become famous for in his work.

 The film is based on a true story in which Margaret (Amy Adams), a naïve young woman from Tennessee, takes off from an abusive marriage with daughter in tow.  She meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) when they are exhibiting their artwork on a downtown street in another city.  He is so charming he sweeps her off her feet and she, feeling desperate, is grateful to acquire some means of support.  Right from the beginning, he is complimentary, and tries to boost her self-confidence and take pride in her painting.  She truly loves him, and with a touch of marital bliss, starts signing her paintings with her married name, “Keane”, rather than her maiden name.

 Now, here is where the Tim Burton touch is evident.  He shows how very gradually Walter begins to take ownership of Margaret’s work.  At first, someone has simply mistaken the “Keane” signature for his, and that seems to be when he gets the idea to go ahead and take credit.  Across time, he owns up to his ruse with Margaret, and eventually pulls her into the lie, pressuring her to go along with it and not let anyone know the paintings of the waifs with big eyes are actually hers.  And like many sociopaths, he argues on the basis of something positive (“we are married; we’re one”) to convince her to accede to his wishes.  Before long, his salesmanship has brought them a considerable amount of money, which is additional reinforcement for them both to go along with it.

 The woman is incredibly naïve (stupid?) to go to the lengths she does to hide their big secret and suppress her sense of ownership.  Even when she learns that most of what she knows about Walter is a lie, she is still unbelievably passive and acquiescent.  Of course, across time, the subterfuge puts a strain on both of them, and she finally develops a backbone.  But he is in too deep to let go easily, and troubles between them become more and more serious.

 Adams and Waltz play their roles with precision, and make us believe in the characters.  Terence Stamp puts in a delightful turn as an acerbic critic who recognizes that what is popular with the masses is not necessarily high art, and creates an uproar when he labels the waifs as pure Kitsch.  

 Overall, this is a fine production in terms of the directing, casting, acting, cinematography (Bruno Delbennel), and music (Danny Elfman).  I think the problem is that the story simply does not have much to offer.  The theme of a naïve young woman being taken in by a snake charmer, who, when she finally decides to stand up for herself, he throws the “crazy” label onto her, has been related in countless productions.  And there is little here to distinguish Big Eyes from all the rest.  

Good production; it’s just that the theme is a tired one.

Grade:  C+  

By Donna R. Copeland