MOVIE REVIEWS |
EDITORIALS | EVENTS |
EXAMINER.COM FILM ARTICLES
Monday, December 29, 2014
My, What Big Lies You Have! All The Better
To Fraud You With . . .
Christoph Waltz as Walter Keane and Amy Adams as Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's
The Weinstein Company
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Proportionality, agency and possession. These are things "Big Eyes", Tim
Burton's luridly-bright nightmare and Sirkian homage, is about. This
creepy, effective drama is based on the true story of Margaret Keane, the famous
painter in San Francisco in the 1950s and 60s who painted hundreds of
sad-looking girls with enlarged eyes dominating their faces. Those souls
are large, and Walter Keane's treacherous, for he took credit for painting them
himself making millions in the process.
Mr. Burton is a big fan of Margaret Keane, and much of his work has the giant
vigor, gleam, color and pall of her finest artistry. "Big Eyes" has a
key-lime freshness and sparkle that's so pristine, eye-popping and perfect that
it's just too natural or good to be true, even politely unsightly. The big
bad wolf lurks around the corner, about to gatecrash the niceties of the San
Francisco and style that Mr. Burton luxuriates in. Christoph Waltz is that wolf, and
Bruno Delbonnel's camera shades the actor's Walter early on then dims the
entire veneer. Mr. Waltz plays wolf well: fangs exposed, ingratiating,
charming and maniacal.
The elegance and gaiety of Mr. Burton's "Big Eyes", calibrated as a fairy-tale
cum nightmare, never waivers even when Walter's scheme is exposed.
Margaret, played by Amy Adams, excellent here, awakens, claims agency by
finding her voice, which it appears she was trying to resurrect through the
sadness of the eyes of the girls she paints. Long before her eventual
resurrection, Margaret hesitates, becoming
one of her own paintings. And Walter, the ready possessor, swoops in for the kill.
Walter is an instant hit. Margaret is boxed up like property -
intellectual and Walter's property of 1967, as she paints the sad-eyed girls she
will rapidly become.
Mr. Burton develops a menagerie of avarice, proportion, rapacity and madness
that suffocates but doesn't quite overwhelm. There's barely halting
distance that Mr. Burton creates, and unlike the consuming power of some of his
prior films, he leaves breathing room as Walter's connivances unfold. "Big
Eyes" is sly, and its knowing figures like Margaret's good friend DeAnn (Krysten
Ritter), smell the stench of Walter's designs before Margaret does.
Margaret is the painting she crafts, flummoxed by 1950's "know your
place, woman" sexist dogma, imprisoned by it and the fear of violence it
internalizes. Neutralized, Margaret eventually settles into the candy
coated-lie, and Mr. Burton's atmosphere, wary but very comfortably.
Walter's crimes and charades were weaved until 1970, when Margaret found her own
voice, fueled by her daughter. "Big Eyes" is the story of a woman
awakening from a male-imposed innocence, and an insight into art that compels
its own artist to arise and speak for herself and the authorship of what she's
created. When we look at art, "Big Eyes" suggests, we look squarely at
ourselves. And that is an unassailable truth about art and the reactions
that art provokes or elicits. Margaret is trapped almost as much by her
art as by Walter. With his scheming and cruel appropriations, Walter has
painted Margaret as money art, or, more pejoratively, as his "cash cow" -- his
"little girl" with big gullible eyes.
Ms. Adams is very effective, and percolation are her strongest moments playing
Ms. Keane. She's keen, aware, and precise. Ms. Adams shows us the
psycho-trauma and emotional betrayal on the surface without playing to or
submerging her acting in the grandiose carnival Mr. Burton ensconces her in.
This perfect imbalance, and a more restrained Mr. Burton, is rendered
seamlessly. "Big Eyes" is by far the most enjoyable and alive Burton
enterprise in some time. Ms. Adams, an adept chameleon, displays technical
qualities brilliantly, playing a highly skilled artist who has to sadly but
understandably hide to survive during a repressive era for women, one in which
the women's movement was just budding.
Critical exactness is foisted on the wicked, ever-wilting lies Walter tells, and
the intensity of "Big Eyes" grows as its walls of truth close in on him. A
fastidious, renowned art critic (Terence Stamp) challenges Walter, as do others.
Soon, objects become larger and Walter smaller as his lies burgeon. The
scales balance out.
Mr. Burton has always been about proportionality in his work. His
imaginative art creations are often outsized and otherworldly, dominating his
gothic, grotesque or grandiose landscapes. The difference in "Big Eyes" is
that proportional art figures become psychological ones for Margaret and Walter.
The landscape itself doesn't really change. I expected a painting to
vocalize in "Big Eyes". It never does. Yet Margaret's imagination
comes even more alive, operating as her affirmation of self-ownership even as
her agency is claimed and inhabited by Walter as the "creator" of her paintings.
It is here where "Big Eyes" peaks. Walter is a pimp artiste. Or an
artist pimp. Or prostituting fraud. Or all the above.
In "Big Eyes" Mr. Burton excellently chips away at the artifice of art -- at how
it is claimed by those who naively fail to appreciate its power or the power of
its creators. The director also plots a "groupie" arena of female
adoration of males who aren't ever questioned by women. It's a jarring,
sycophantic vision. Mr. Burton mocks the commercialization of art
splendidly, using Walter as commerce's proxy. Walter symbolically
bastardizes art through his greed. He's enabled by reporters.
Marital entitlements, which California firmly recognized and afforded men
marital rape rights over women right up into the 1970s, supplied Walter the
leverage to abuse Margaret on a psychological (and maybe physical) level.
The art in "Big Eyes", whether celebrated or damned, liberates the souls of its
antagonists and protagonists. This happens when Margaret engages her art
as she inhabits the warped Walter's misshapen, inaccurate world. Margaret
figuratively and retreats into her art as an attempted safe haven. She
could be said to be "relegated" to art, yet I saw Margaret's retreat as an
attempt to regroup, empower and reclaim her larger voice as a person via what
she does best. Margaret's imagination is more powerful than Walter's
deception. So are Margaret's affirmations and identity. "This art is
a part of me," she says. Mr. Burton blends them well.
What "Big Eyes" shows us is how the male psyche and the crafted, privileged
world that bolsters it perpetuates and creates a climate for a world, no matter
how complicit or opposing. This world sides with Walter and his
possessiveness and believes, or
acquiesces, to his lies. And beyond that the world bends to his will.
Though some in "Big Eyes" have doubts, none of them question. Only
Margaret's daughter, she of the future generation, speaks up to breaks the
Also with: Danny Huston, Jon Polito, Jason Schwartzman, Madeleine Arthur,
"Big Eyes" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for
thematic elements and brief strong language. The film's running time is
one hour and 46 minutes.
COPYRIGHT 2014. POPCORNREEL.COM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
MOVIE REVIEWS |
EDITORIALS | EVENTS |
| PHOTOS |
EXAMINER.COM FILM ARTICLES