3.5 stars
Big Eyes is a mixed bag; part biopic, part domestic thriller, part genuine oddity.
It concerns the famous case of an amateur American painter couple and their strange marriage. The female lead is Margaret (the doe-eyed Amy Adams - Her) who, as a young woman coming to the big city, meets the charming Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz - Carnage). Walter is immediately charming and plausible, he more or less sweeps Margaret off her feet with his urbane tales of being a painter in Paris and his enthusiasm for fine food and wine and art.

It’s no spoiler to say that we are immediately wary of Walter on Margaret’s behalf because he is just too good to be true. Also, Waltz – one of the most gifted screen actors today – subtly manages to suggest something slightly wrong at the very edges of his otherwise plausible pitch. Margaret paints these kitsch little portraits of children with out-of-proportion eyes and Walter soon notices that they are flying off the shelves. This is America in the 1950’s and expanding Doris day-like suburbia has newly-minted homed and wants some ‘art’ to cover the bare new walls.

Soon Walter starts to behave in a more and more controlling fashion and poor old Margaret becomes chained to the canvas churning out paintings that only enhance his reputation (now that he has ‘merged’ their names/signatures). Director Tim Burton (Alice In Wonderland) presumably does not feel the need to explain much of this as it is based on a very well known case, becoming a long magazine article and bestselling book. The arc of the narrative is thus predictable from early on. Also Magaret’s life becomes very constrained so there is really nowhere to go with the story until the denouement.

It should be said that this is an unusual project for the wild and inventive Burton to take on. Apart from the fact that his ideal face (to judge from his partner and previous casting choices) has big eyes and a small mouth, there is very little of ‘him’ in this really. In others words it is far from a typical Tim Burton film which may account for its occasional unsureness of tone. Still, Burton is a considerable artist in his own right and he has earned the right to make any kind of film he damn well wants. Big Eyes is certainly not a failure, and parts of it are very well played. As noted, a lot of people will know the story (and its outcome).

Still, both Adams and Waltz are extremely good and there is always something slightly fascinating about a great con. Perhaps, in another way, there is another mystery wrapped within this story of deception; that is why so many Americans bought such terrible paintings in the first place. Perhaps Burton secretly feels that too (and he gives a great cameo to an art critic played by the venerable Terence Stamp who briefly sets the record straight). However, to have gone too far down that path might have undermined our sympathy for Margaret and, quite rightly, Burton wants this to be her story. It is highly watchable and, in its bright and creepy way, quite haunting.


Previewed at Roadshow Theatre, Sydney, on 12 December 2014


Amy Adams
Christoph Walz
Jason Schwartzman
Danny Huston

Tim Burton

Scott Alexander
Larry Karaszewski



106 minutes

March 19, 2015
Big Eyes (2014) on IMDb