“You undervalue yourself.”
Big Eyes is a great example of how during the film’s time period, and especially now, one can’t substantially succeed without the ability to sell themselves. You have to talk yourself up and whore yourself out, momentarily be a narcissistic and self-marketing machine to say you’re the best whether you are or not (I’ve found that in these cases the people usually or not). But oftentimes the real talent hides in the shadows. They’re too timid, too shy, too submissive. Imagine the quality not only in the arts, but in the entire work force if this was not the case. The above poster for the film perfectly demonstrates this point. The real artist is a stowaway, almost depicted as an ornament on the dress of the limelight enthusiast showering in praise on deck. Big Eyes is a small story about a big scandal that could have never been told and everything would have been just fine in the world. Still, it delivers the kind of rich story and picture we’ve come to expect from a Tim Burton film.
Margaret (Amy Adams), freshly separated from her abusive husband, is on the run to San Francisco with her daughter Jane (Delaney Raye). They’re greeted by her friend DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter), apparently the only familiar face in the sea of West Coast strangers. Margaret clearly isn’t in the know as she asks her friend if espresso is, “like reefer.” So uncool. Days are spent in the park bartering with passerby over the price of her work…she always capitulates to their low price. And that’s where Walter (Christoph Waltz) enters the picture. He flirts with his customers, makes them laugh and smile, and encourages Margaret to not sell herself, or her work, short. He wines and dines the neglected artist, moving unbelievably fast towards a marriage proposal. And it’s clear Margaret has run from a barbaric man only to be caught by a swindling mountebank.
Tim Burton does a great job with the writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski of not initially blaming either party for the famous scandal that ensues. Walter pawns the work off as his own, and to start he genuinely seems to do so with his wife’s best interest in mind. As the story progresses, we figure out the only thing Walter can paint, and he does admirably well, is a scam. He’s no artist; real estate is his main mode of income. A crucial scene sets up Margaret with the opportunity to take her rightful credit, but rather than own up to her work she stands there inaudible, acquiescing to her husband yet again. It’s a well thought out, darkly funny, and quiet meditation on artistic achievement.
This is pretty much a two horse race from the get go, saddling up with Adams and Waltz as the top ponies we’ll get to see sprint towards the finish. Waltz, once again, excels as the snarky and spineless male lead. It’s incredible how he’s been able to morph countless unlikable roles into characters you sparingly side with. Adams is equally good, if not better than her male counterpart. The problem is that her character, Margaret, is just too damn quiet. She nearly slips out of your mind and the film itself, at times becoming a stiff, white-faced mannequin with a permanent aghast gaze stuck on her face. Adams is such a great actress, and she’s really good here, but it’s far from her best work. I’d be just as shocked as her character would be if she’s nominated for an Oscar.
What a gift it is from Burton to finally break free from his frequent collaborator Johnny Depp (who to me is on the downside of his career) to work with two performers at the top of their game. We get the typical Burton flair through a picture smothered with the vibrancy of a package of Skittles, as well as the same dreamy haze visuals as his film Big Fish. While I don’t think Big Eyes has a resounding message outside of, “grow a spine” or “believe in yourself,” Burton and his dynamic duo don’t let that damper the overall effect of the movie. It won’t etch its way into your memory bank, but while you’re in it, Big Eyes is a fascinating and sharp inspection on the value of art and self.
“Eyes are the window to the soul.”
Rating: 4 out of 5