The true story of 1960s plagiarist Walter Keane, who manipulated his wife Margaret into passing off her popular paintings as his own work.
Single mother Margaret (Amy Adams) is starting life anew with her young daughter in 1950s San Francisco. A talented artist, Margaret’s simple-yet-evocative paintings of doe-eyed children gain notice in the Bay Area art community, but it’s not until she meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) that her career begins to truly thrive. Charming, worldly and manipulative, Walter falls in love with Margaret and a quick wedding follows.
Walter thinks Margaret’s paintings can make a profit, to the dismay of local gallery owners and highbrow art critics, who view Margaret’s creations as cheap and kitschy. Walter believes that the paintings will be taken more seriously if he attaches his own name to them, and the timid Margaret refuses to object. Walter’s showmanship eventually earns them a small fortune and international fame, so Margaret — timid by nature — goes along with the ruse. The paintings gain serious popularity and begin to spread worldwide, even gaining the attention of art legends such as Andy Warhol.
When The New York Times and several other high-profile media outlets begin to probe into Walter’s past, Margaret becomes increasingly worried. Eventually, both husband and wife are forced to untangle the web of lies that they’ve created, and Margaret attempts to extricate herself from Walter’s control.
Directed by the acclaimed Tim Burton, Big Eyes is an excellent film that shines light on a long-forgotten, controversial story. It also allows Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz (two of my favorite actors) show off their ludicrous amounts of talent. This film is extremely well acted and the cinematography is gorgeous. While Burton has been up-and-down in the 2010s, this is another very solid addition to his catalogue. The script was written by the team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who previously wrote the script for Burton’s Ed Wood.
It took many years for the real-life Margaret Keane (now age 90) to agree for her unique life to be put on the big screen. Humble by nature, Margaret didn’t think of her story as anything special or “film-worthy”, but liked what Burton & Co. were willing to bring to the table story-wise and offered to make a brief cameo in the film. She also spent many hours with Amy Adams and the two became quite close during the filming process. After Big Eyes was released, Margaret’s paintings enjoyed a resurgence in popularity.
The story of Big Eyes captures a passive woman who eventually develops a strong sense of worth through her husband’s illegal machinations. The versatile Adams shines in yet another fantastic performance — one that won her a Golden Globe Award for best lead actress. Meanwhile, dual Oscar winner Christoph Waltz is superb as usual, using his characteristic charm to play a fraudster whose out-of-control ego led to his downfall. It’s an absolute treat to watch these two share the screen.
With all that said, the film does have a few flaws. I felt like some supporting characters in Big Eyes weren’t very well developed, and there are some occasional pacing issues here and there. I also felt like there were a couple of unrealistic moments in the latter half of the movie that may have been put in for dramatic effect. Ultimately, Big Eyes is a riveting, intriguing film that features stirring performances, gorgeous cinematography and sharp direction.
- Directed by Tim Burton
- Starring Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Jon Poltio, Terence Stamp, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Delaney Raye, Madeleine Arthur
- Written by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski
- Produced by Tim Burton, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski and Lynette Howell
- Director of Photography — Bruno Delbonnel
- Music by Danny Elfman
- Edited by J.C. Bond
- Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language.
- Tim Burton originally became interested in Margaret Keane’s paintings back in the 90s, when he commissioned her to do a portrait of his then-wife, Lisa Marie.
- Burton’s first film not to be produced by Richard Zanuck, who passed away in 2012.
- Amy Adams liked the script when it was offered to her, but she originally turned down the role of Margaret because the character lacked “a stronger sense of self”. After playing a more confident character in American Hustle, Adams felt she got a new perspective of Margaret Keane, and the character’s quiet dignity won her over. Coincidentally, Adams won Golden Globe Awards for both performances.
- This is the first Burton film not to feature actors with whom he had previously worked. While Batman was the first Burton film to feature a recurring actor in a major role, his early films still featured recurring actors in minor parts.
- Burton and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel originally wanted to shoot on 35MM film, but had to abandon the idea due to budget concerns.
- The movie is Burton’s second biopic, after Ed Wood, which was also written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.
- Reese Witherspoon and Kate Hudson were considered for the role of Margaret, while Ryan Reynolds and Thomas Haden Church were once attached to play Walter.
- The doe-eyed paintings that Margaret made were the primary inspiration for the popular children’s animated TV show The Powerpuff Girls.