I have experienced trouble in my film-addict lifetime attaching much emotion to Tim Burton movies. Yeah, Beetlejuice and Batman are classics and will always be signature Burton. Ed Wood was mad fun but didn’t hang with me for too many years. Big Fish was the biggest surprise because it did connect. Lately, though, his efforts haven’t left much of an effect. I see his films and shake my shoulders and think to myself, “Maybe next time he will mix in a little of that Big Fish spectacle with the Ed Wood madness and tell a simple tale.
Well, his latest feature, Big Eyes, is exactly that. A simple straight forward tale that is sweet, odd, a little dark, and doesn’t shy away from the obsessions that ordinary people have with gifted artists. Tim Burton doesn’t apply too much black paint to this heartfelt true story of a brilliant painter hiding in the shadows of her showboating husband for 10 years. He just tells the story and lets the chips fall. He also lets a talented pair of actors in Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz take this movie and run with it.
Using the screenwriting team he used for Ed Wood(Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski), Burton tells the story of Margaret Keane(Adams), a brilliant artist who created the “big eyed” artistry of little girls and created a global sensation when her husband, Walter(Waltz), exploited the work as his own and it took the world by storm. Taking place in the late 1950’s and bleeding into the 1960’s, Big Eyes is a movie about the awakening of an artist after many years of hiding. There are traces of Big Fish when we meet Margaret in the first scene of the film, when she is taking her daughter away from a troubling marriage and escapes to San Francisco. There, she settles in and meets Walter, and everything happens quickly. Solitude, love, happiness, a connection, fame, fortune and then deceit. The score of Danny Elfman carries this simplistic tale quite nicely, never overpowering the work of the actors.
Waltz never seems to drift too far from one speed as an actor. It’s overzealous gleaming covered over by a dark sinister vibe of corrupted intent. It was born in Inglorious Basterds and continued in last year’s Django Unchained. Quentin Tarantino’s discovery is a fine actor, and doesn’t have to stretch too far with any of his characters. His fake smile and over exuberant energy does the trick, which means he never looks like he is trying too hard and that includes screaming and trying to set his house on fire. He plays bottled up madness very well.
The movie truly belongs to Adams, a quiet tower of inner strength bustling at the corners throughout the film. The woman can’t do any wrong these days. She has scored Oscar nominations for Junebug, Doubt, The Fighter, The Master, American Hustle and may garner some support here. She doesn’t overplay the sadness buried in Margaret or show too much restraint. What you see with her is a woman playing along in this thievery because she doesn’t know how to go any other direction. The entire film, you root for her and when the time comes, the writers and Burton just let Adams take it away. It’s an impressive performance that carries the film.
Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman and Terence Stamp all deliver quality support, with some much needed laughter coming in from Schwartzman and Waltz. The film never takes itself too seriously and always seems to be fleet of foot in key moments.
When I left Big Eyes, I wasn’t blown away. I was satisfied. I was glad that Tim Burton found a movie that fit his strengths and a cast that could carry the material home. This was a pleasant and enjoyable surprise. A rare treat(at least for this critic) from the acclaimed director.