Margaret (Amy Adams) took her daughter Jane (Delaney Raye) and left her husband and a breaking marriage for San Francisco where she had always hoped to become an artist, and since that region was viewed as a magnet for creativity it seemed like an obvious place to start again. However, she may have been talented but she wasn't tremendously adept at self-promotion and wound up painting in her spare time while she held down a job as a decorator of children's furniture. That was until by chance she was out offering drawings of passersby in a park for a pittance of a fee when one of the other artists present, Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) was attracted by her...
If a work of art is popular, does that lessen its merit, or even take away the ownership of that work to be picked up by everyone else? That was the question posed by Big Eyes, a biopic of Margaret Keane, the woman who became very successful peddling her own brand of sentimental paintings for the mass market back in the nineteen-sixties, marked by her deployment of huge eyes seemingly brimming with tears on her pictures of children, or waifs as they became known. Like some kind of pop culture craze, they were must-haves to adorn the homes of countless Americans, and not only them, but controversy came a-knocking when not only the worth of such artefacts but their origins came into debate.
According to director Tim Burton's movie, based on his Ed Wood screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karasewski's script, there were two competing issues within Margaret's efforts that they were bringing out in their account. First was one which Burton, as a creator of pop culture entertainments, would be very sympathetic to (and also as a collector of Keane's work), and that was if there are a lot of folks who truly enjoy your media unironically, are their tastes to be judged dubious when there were more rarefied tastes that would ordinarily dismiss something so popular? And are the cognoscenti right or are they simply snobs who turn their noses up at much that the majority appreciate, or does that majority lack the critical thinking to set their sights higher?
Unsurprisingly, Burton fell on the side of the artist here, with Terence Stamp using his icy stare to fine effect as the art critic who despises the waif paintings as the worst kind of kitsch, though now as the art world has moved on to the likes of Jeff Koons making millions of dollars, it would seem Margaret had the last laugh. But then there was the second point where Walter was the one who actually got the paintings out there and into the public consciousness, as an excellent salesman and publicist - should his wife have been grateful that he spread her work's renown, even if he did it under his own name rather than her own? Here the film is more ambiguous about whether she would ever have achieved quite as much as she did under her own steam.
Nevertheless, there's little doubt that Walter, through his hubris as much as anything else, was the villain of the piece as he forces his wife to continue the subterfuge to the extent that she laboured away in a back room studio of their swanky house while he went out shilling and schmoozing, hobnobbing with the rich and famous while downplaying Margaret's contribution. In that manner the movie turned into a quirky blow for emancipation, especially in the finale when we end up in a celebrated court case to determine just who the artistry belonged to, not that it downplayed Margaret's own personality with her beliefs in numerology and conversion to become a Jehovah's Witness, subtly indicating the pressure she was under led her to these unorthodox doctrines. Adams, accustomed to characters with more fire in their bellies, was surprisingly effective as the meek but morally correct Margaret, balancing well with Waltz's charming but untrustworthy reading of Walter, and you found yourself noticing Burton's emphasis of the cast's eyes, some more blatantly than others. Music by Danny Elfman.
American director, producer and writer, frequently of Gothic flavoured fantasy who has acquired a cult following in spite of the huge mainstream success of many of his projects. He began as an animator at Disney, who allowed him to work on his own projects while animating the likes of The Fox and the Hound, which garnered the attention of Paul Reubens to direct Pee Wee's Big Adventure.