Home » Years » 2014 » Big Eyes •••1/2

Big Eyes •••1/2

Big_Eyes_posterStarring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter
Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Biography/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 106 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2014

Margaret Keane: Single, P-PP Emotional, Pro (Classic Lone Hero)

Walter Keane: Single, N-NN Moral, Ant (Irredeemable Deceptive Lone Villain)


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Scott, I thought we were going to see a movie about Big Guys?

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

No, Greg. This movie is about popular paintings of oversized ocular cavities. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to divorcee and single mother Margaret (Amy Adams) who draws caricatures for a dollar on the boardwalk. It isn’t long before fellow painter and realtor Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) takes an interest in Margaret’s work. She paints waifs with mournful, oversized eyes. Walter and Margaret soon marry and Walter starts selling his own paintings and hers in a local jazz club. Through a misunderstanding, Walter sells one of Margaret’s paintings as his own (they are signed “Keane” after all).

Gradually, Margaret’s paintings gain a following. The following soon turns into a phenomenon, and the Keanes’ acquire fame and fortune. All this time, Walter has Margaret believing that it’s in their best financial interest for everyone to continue believing that Walter is the talented creator of the big eyes paintings. Margaret knows the deception is morally wrong but it is not until she reads some religious literature that she realizes what she must do. When Margaret comes clean, the world at first disbelieves her, requiring that she take Walter to court for the truth to be revealed

Scott, Big Eyes is a nice, quiet, engaging look at the artist behind a marketing genius. While the main character is Margaret Keane, it’s her evil husband Walter who makes things happen. Undeniably, Margaret is a rare talent. But it isn’t until she meets Walter that her art makes an impact on society. Walter is a liar and a cheat. He tries to pass off some French painter’s street paintings as his own – and then does the same with Margaret’s work. At first Margaret sees Walter as a savior, but as the movie moves along, Walter relegates Margaret to the attic where she hides her work not only from the public, but her own daughter. Margaret begins to take on the appearance of a sweatshop slave with no friends and few acquaintances.

Big Eyes was eye-opening is its portrayal of the subjugation of women prior to the feminist movement of the 1960s. Our hero Margaret finds her life and career constrained by a society that empowers White men at the expense of women. In some ways, I see parallels to Selma, another fine movie that we’ve seen and reviewed this year. Both these movies focus on how a hero goes about achieving justice. Margaret must break down barriers, both societal and personal, that are denying her proper recognition for her work.

The hero story in Big Eyes emerges quite nicely. Margaret starts out lacking self-confidence and thus allows herself to be mistreated and taken advantage of by her morally bankrupt husband Walter. She begins to derive strength and chutzpah from her best friend DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter) and from her teenage daughter Jane (Madeleine Arthur). These mentoring figures, along with a pair of evangelicals who arrive at her doorstep at the right time, help Margaret find the courage to stand up for herself. My only quibble is that the movie never shows us the aftermath of Margaret’s final courtroom redemption.

I found Big Eyes a very paint-by-numbers biopic. While you’re right that there is a transformation for our hero, Margaret, it comes from a very strange place – and occurs late in the film. I found it odd that Jehovah’s Witnesses were the catalyst for Margaret’s decision to finally divorce her husband and petition the courts for her share of their fortune. They are known for their belief that women should be subservient to their husbands, so it was an ironic turn.

The villain in this film is clearly Walter Keane and he undergoes an interesting transformation himself. While he always comes off as a sort of used-car-salesman-type, he seems genuinely caring for Margaret at first. It isn’t until his marketing talents bring in millions for the couple that he becomes evil. At one point he threatens Margaret with her life and even attempts to burn her house down. This convinces Margaret that she has to leave the relationship and moves to Hawaii.

At first I thought Walter might be the type of transforming villain who starts out as mildly evil but then grows increasingly evil as time goes on. We’ve seen this type of evil transformation in an earlier movie from 2014 called Nightcrawler. But the scene in which we discover that Walter has faked his paintings of Parisian streets changed my mind about Walter. It turns out he was a scumbag from the start, but we just didn’t know it. Certainly Margaret didn’t know it until far too late.

Walter is simply a lone villain with sociopathic tendencies who exploited his wife to achieve his own selfish aims. Perhaps he can be categorized as somewhat of a mysterious villain in that we don’t know the extent of his evil ways until the latter half of the film. We don’t gain much of an understanding of why Walter is such a lousy schmuck but then this movie isn’t about him as much as it is a story of Margaret’s transformation from doormat to courageous hero.

Big Eyes is an entertaining movie about an artistic phenomenon of the 1960s. While Amy Adams does a fine job in the role of Margaret Keane, I thought Christoph Waltz really stole the show with his rich interpretation of Walter Keane. This is where art imitates life as it was Walter who overshadowed Margaret in real life. I enjoyed myself in this film, but I don’t think I’d get much more from it on a second viewing. I give Big Eyes just 3 out of 5 Reels.

Margaret Keane is a quiet hero with not a lot of backbone. We see her transform from an acquiescent, obedient wife to a woman of her own. I was happy to see her overcome her insecurities and realize her self-worth. I give her 3 out of 5 Heroes.

Walter Keane was the more interesting character in my mind. He was colorful, extraverted, and entrepreneurial. There was a lot to admire about his accomplishments. But he gained his wealth and status at the expense of Margaret’s talents. He was talentless and built himself up on Margaret’s skills. I liked the emergence of Walter’s behavior from somewhat shady to downright evil so I give him 4 out of 5 Villains.

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Big Eyes is an interesting examination of how easily women could lose their identities and their dignity in the era of male chauvinism and gender inequality. It is also a fine story of a woman’s ability to muster up the moral and physical courage to confront male evil and defeat it. This movie is entertaining and features great performances from all involved, particularly Amy Adams. I award this film 4 out of 5 Reels.

As I’ve noted, the hero story is capably constructed as it features Margaret’s transformation from a frightened and exploited sweatshop worker to a fierce social and legal champion of her own rights. The hero journey is not portrayed to the fullest extent yet still merits 4 Heroes out of 5.

The villain Walter Keane is quite a selfish bastard who gets his comeuppance in a final courtroom scene that reveals him to be laughably inept. I enjoyed watching Walter rise in his evil ways and then fall and shatter like Humpty Dumpty. Still, we aren’t told much about what made Walter such a douchebag and so I must limit my rating of his villainy to 3 out of 5 Villains.

 Movie: reel-4 Villain: villain-3 Hero: h-logo-4

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