A Tim Burton film usually means a certain kind of film: Gothic, a bit weird, German expressionism and Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Yet with their recent split, it seems that Helena Bonham Carter ‘won’ Johnny Depp in the divorce…and thus, Tim Burton was forced to go in a new direction. The result? A refreshing change.

‘Loosely based’ on a true story, Big Eyes is set in the 1950s and 60s, when Margaret (Amy Adams) flees an oppressive marriage and moves to San Francisco with her daughter. Struggling as a single-mom who spends her weekends painting unique portraits, she soon meets fellow artist Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) and the two begin a whirlwind romance. In awe of his confidence and success as an artist, Margaret falls for Walter and the two get married.

However, things don’t always meet the eye, and Keane’s scenic paintings fail to impress the local art dealer, and when Keane convinces the jazz club to showcase his and Margaret’s paintings, he’s horrified to discover that people are far more interested in Margaret’s waif-like children with enormous eyes than they are with his dull Paris scenery. And when one buyer wrongly identifies him as the painter ‘Keane’, he does not correct them. After all, combined with his charisma and Margaret’s skills, they have the opportunity of a lifetime to become rich and famous. Well, he has the opportunity to become rich and famous.

Of course, the best bit about this story is that it is in fact based on a true story. Sure, there was bound to be tonnes of ‘artistic embellishment’ but surprisingly, the most notorious aspects of the film are actually true. And though Tim Burton has added a layer of commentary that brings up the gender inequality, in light of the continual debate about the gender pay gap, it felt relevant. Because while Walter Keane may have been more charisma than Margaret, his ability to sell her paintings largely stemmed from the belief that as a male he was automatically a more superior artist than his wife. Pah.

What I enjoyed best about Big Eyes was the refreshing change of pace for a Tim Burton film. Truthfully, the past few Tim Burton films I’ve said have been woeful, and it felt as though Burton was relying on his usual cache to deliver box office results: that of Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp and a distinct undertone of Gothic. So while his divorce with Bonham Carter may had led to the different direction in casting, it turned out to be a positive one.

Though perhaps a little too earnest, Amy Adam’s performance as Margaret was strong, likeable and realistic – she portrayed succinctly a woman who despite being intelligent and resourceful was still trapped by the emotions of a man. Christoph Waltz however, though entertaining to watch, was somewhat over-bearing, as though he was a cartoon character or a melodramatic villain in an old black and white film. Granted, it may be because his voice is so distinctive (thus conjuring up his other movies, where he plays the villain), but the way Waltz portrayed Keane made him instantly unlikeable and untrustworthy – in fact, I wasn’t even sure why Margaret fell for him. And in a film where he is meant to increase his sheer madness, it felt like Waltz started off too strongly and then had nowhere to go as the story developed. And as for Krysten Ritter, who plays Margaret’s best friend, and Jason Schwartzman, the snobby art dealer, while their performances were strong, they had almost no screen time, giving their characters with little chance to have an impact on the story.

I enjoyed Big Eyes and it was a fun way to spend an afternoon. I’m thankful that Tim Burton decided to go in a new direction, while still maintaining the charming aspects of his film-making: quirkiness, beautiful cinematography and strong female characters. Definitely recommend if you’re up for something a bit ‘arthouse’ without being too weird.

Have you seen Big Eyes? Are you a fan of Tim Burton? Let me know!

 

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