Big Eyes

A sad irony rests at the center of the story of popular painter of saucer-eyed waifs Margaret Keane and her Svengali of a husband Walter: though Margaret (played by Amy Adams) believed the eyes were the “windows of the soul” she managed her career with a frightful lack of self-awareness, naivete and untoward trust in the charming Walter (Christoph Waltz). Set in San Francisco in the late ’50s and ’60s, Tim Burton’s Big Eyes borrows a bit from the Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows) playbook in its color-saturation and celebration (and criticism) of mid-20th century middle America. Margaret meets Walter while drawing $2 portraits at a street fair. She and her daughter Jane (Delaney Raye) were on their own after fleeing Margaret’s stifling husband. Walter purports to having studied at Beaux-Arts in Paris and to knowing gallery owners and art patrons. Margaret’s desperation is palpable and soon they’re wed. Walter takes over the promotion of Margaret’s big-eyed paintings and quickly realizes that her work is more evocative (and marketable) than the pedestrian streetscapes he has been hawking. When a sniggling newspaper columnist (Danny Huston) overhears an argument between Walter and a local clubowner (Jon Polito), the painter and the doleful children he claims to have painted become causes celebres. Margaret goes along with the ruse for the sake of peace and profits but soon begins her slow descent into regret and recrimination. This is not particularly edgy material as compared to Burton’s other works but it is a credible and, yes, artful treatment of fraudulence and authenticity. 


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