BigEyescoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
2014, 105 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language
Anchor Bay
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD
Bonus features: C-
Trailer/Amazon link

Big Eyes isn’t your usual Tim Burton film. Though there’s a twisted aspect to the relationship between painter Margaret Keane and her controlling husband Walter—along with a vibe that’s faintly reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands—it’s still a pretty straightforward biopic. But don’t be misled by the box blurb announcing that Amy Adams won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy. Big Eyes is neither. It’s a drama made fascinating by Adams’ flawless performance, with occasional comedic moments provided by Christoph Waltz’s brilliant-but-delusional P.T. Barnum-like antics as Walter Keane.

Walter manipulates the art world and the buying public as much as he does his wife, whose paintings he takes credit for—first, to make a sale, then, because it feeds his ego. Throughout the Sixties they continue this charade, with Walter rising as a public figure and Margaret shrinking to even smaller dimensions than when they first met and she was overwhelmed by his personality.

You forget that it’s a Tim Burton film until Margaret goes grocery shopping and has hallucinations of all the other shoppers looking at her with the trademark “big eyes” that she featured on all of her paintings of children. That’s the one creepy moment in the film that feels Burtonesque. But you can see why the director was drawn to Margaret’s story. Like Edward Scissorhands, she’s forced to live in isolation and spends much of her time in an attic, working away. Like Scissorhands, she’s timid and naive and easily manipulated. And the big eyes she paints? It’s those paintings of big-eyed, dark-eyed, sad-looking waifs that come closest to what we expect from Burton.

BigEyesscreenBig Eyes tells Margaret’s story, beginning with her flight in 1958 from her first husband and her meeting Walter Keane at a San Francisco art fair, where they both were trying to sell their works. It’s rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language, but I’d have to say that it’s pretty understated, with far less language and violence than most PG-13 movies, and no sex. It wouldn’t hurt young teens to see that an abusive relationship doesn’t have to involve physical violence. There’s no hitting in their marriage, only intimidation and manipulation, with Margaret being an unwitting enabler because of her timidity. Yes, there’s one scene where Walter gets drunk and menaces his wife and stepdaughter, but young girls might benefit from seeing a film like this, and how easily things can snowball in a controlling relationship. While Big Eyes is the story of a twisted relationship, the focus remains on the art, the phenomenon that this “kitsch” art became, and what art and those children mean to Margaret. In that respect, it’s quirkier and more upbeat than your typical sour relationship story.  

My 17-year-old son enjoyed it and said he’d give it an A-, but my wife and I think that a bit generous. While the performances are great and the story is interesting, the film isn’t as complex as it might have been—and maybe this is the Edward Scissorhands influence. There’s a fairly simple trajectory to the plot and an eventual resolution that feels very much like a fantasy fable with a moral to be learned. But that relative simplicity and the film’s fabulistic side also make Big Eyes more family-friendly than if Burton had opted for gritty realism and psychological complexity. But I don’t think Big Eyes would interest children under 12.

Visually, it’s a sumptuous film, with Burton opting for a palette that matches the bright “big eyes” canvases, and it looks great in high definition, with a solid audio mix.

Language: One F-bomb and a handful of minor obscenities
Sex: Nothing depicted or even implied, just one kissing scene
Violence: An unsuccessful attempt to stab someone with a fork, a brief bar brawl, and drunken menace
Adult situations: Drinking
Takeaways: Art is in the eyes of the beholder, and no one should have to stay in a relationship that diminishes them

Advertisements