Tim Burton has left his bizarre concepts behind to direct biopic Big Eyes, the true story of the artist Margaret Keane. Keane painted children and animals with saucer eyes that could easily have stepped out of a fantasy film by this same director.
Following a divorce, Margaret (Amy Adams) is a struggling single mother when she meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz). He immediately sees her talent, as well as an opportunity for himself. Walter sweeps her off her feet and offers her a stable marriage which she feels she can’t refuse. In between her skill and his drive to sell, her artwork rapidly becomes the talk of the nation. Only, her husband passes off the canvases as his own. Soon Margaret is in over her head, painting long hours a day whilst supporting his lie.
It is no wonder that Adams won a Golden Globe for her role as the oppressed Margaret. Meanwhile, Waltz’ performance seems annoyingly exaggerated but is, according to the real Ms Keane, less nutty than that of the original Mr Keane!
An unnecessary voiceover starts off the narrative and randomly picks up again throughout the otherwise well-executed progression from one scene to the next. The cinematography is brilliant and carried out in a palette as rich as that of the Pop Art movement in question. Speaking of the culture, the setting is perfectly reminiscent of the fifties and sixties, complete with an intro shot right out of a Kodak picture, a gorgeous retro villa for the Keanes to reside in and vintage get-ups for the ladies.
The music is captivating, moving the story along and suggesting the mood throughout. In one particularly macabre scene it preempts the danger that Margaret and daughter Jane might be in. This proved me wrong in my preconception that given the genre, the film would be devoid of Burton’s fantastical notions.
My favourite scene has to be the one that takes the vision into the surreal. It is shot in a supermarket, where Margaret picks up a can of Campbell’s soup (for the non-art fans, this is the famous subject of a painting by Warhol). This starts off a manipulation of the visual into something out of a Pop Art painting. Add Margaret’s hallucinations to the display and you have something whimsical enough to be attributed to this director’s style.
The film is a joy to watch, not least because of its truth about women’s lack of voice in recent history, but more so because of how accurately it presents the differences between fine art and commercial art, including kitsch.
Big Eyes is a KRS release and will be shown in local cinemas.