Big Eyes Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston. Directed by Tim Burton. Rated PG-13. Now playing.
It’s been 20 years since director Tim Burton made a movie that didn’t deal with the fantastic, and for his return to reality he’s reteamed with Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the screenwriters behind his excellent 1994 biopic Ed Wood. Big Eyes takes on another potentially misunderstood outsider artist, Margaret Keane, whose paintings of sorrowful big-eyed children became a cultural phenomenon in the 1960s, despite derision from critics and the art establishment. At the time, the paintings were actually credited to Margaret’s husband, Walter Keane, and the dynamic between the two Keanes is at the heart of Big Eyes.
While the story of how naïve Margaret (Amy Adams) moved to San Francisco and fell under the spell of the charismatic Walter (Christoph Waltz), only to find her one true love (her art) taken away from her, is fascinating, Burton and the screenwriters keep it at a mostly surface level, moving the plot along swiftly but glibly. Each new development is thrilling in a “how could this really happen?” sort of way, but the movie never really delves into Margaret or Walter as people, never understands what makes them do what they do.
The final act, when Margaret breaks away from Walter and sues him for credit for her work, makes for an absurdly entertaining courtroom drama, and Burton balances whimsy and seriousness well. The end result is a breezy look into a bizarre corner of pop-culture history, but it isn’t much more substantial than Burton’s recent cinematic flights of fancy.