I very clearly remember the first time I learned of the pop culture phenom of Keane paintings. It was roughly two months ago when I first saw a trailer for Tim Burton’s latest film “Big Eyes.” I admit that the most memorable thing about the trailer for me was not my general ignorance of this apparently well-known painter, but the fact that for a brief moment I thought Christoph Waltz, who plays Walter Keane in this movie, was playing a non-devious character. That dream was short-lived.
For those equally ignorant of the Keane legacy, here’s the gist: Walter Keane was a hugely popular artist in the 1950’s, known for his paintings featuring large-eyed children. He was also the first to widely and cheaply reproduce works of art for the masses. He was also a liar, his wife, Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), was the true talent behind the iconic images.
I’m realizing at this point in the review, you probably think I didn’t like this movie, and that’s not the case. I admit, I didn’t love it, but I did enjoy it, and I completely understand where the critical acclaim is coming from. It’s one of those movies, where you probably know exactly what’s going to happen the entire time. Even, in my ill-informed case, I knew what the outcome of this story was. That didn’t make the story any less intriguing, because here’s the thing, the movie isn’t really about the slander or plagiarism, it’s about psychological abuse, and that is not an easy thing to watch. Watching it from the outside, it is downright frustrating at times.
I can’t imagine anyone but Amy Adams pulling the part of the empowered victim off with such apparent ease, and although Christoph Waltz’s American accent leaves much to be desired (soooo much), there are few who could pull off the intelligent villain with quite the same style. It’s an intriguing story and one well-worth telling.
The most surprising thing about this movie is that it’s directed by Tim Burton, and that’s not a dig, it’s a compliment. Aside from the large eye hallucinations, there’s nothing inherently Burton about this film—no gothic themes, no Johnny Depp, or Helena Bonham Carter. And for the record, I do actually enjoy most of Burton’s films, and all of the clichés I just listed are entirely true.
As we approach the Golden Globes on Sunday (where both Adams and Waltz are nominated) and the yet to be announced Oscar nominees, “Big Eyes” is definitely getting some buzz, and it’s deserved. It wouldn’t shock me if it’s one of the ten (dear god Academy if you only have nine nominees again I will freak out) films considered, but I can’t imagine it will go home with the statuette come Oscar night.