Tim Burton has received a fair amount of criticism for doing the same thing over and over. All great auteurs return to the same themes, but perhaps he has made one too many German Expressionist fantasies centered on disaffected loners played by Johnny Depp. So, in an attempt to please his detractors, Mr. Burton has made something I never thought he would: a normal movie. The film—“Big Eyes”—is never dull, but it lacks any sort of directorial personality.
The always appealing Amy Adams stars as real-life artist Margaret Ulbrich, a 1950s mother and recent divorcée who falls into a moving-too-fast relationship with the charismatic Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz). The two get married and Margaret plans to sell her meticulously crafted kitch paintings of big-eyed waifs. However, Walter decides to sell the paintings under his name, both because art made by women was seen as inferior in the 1950s and to satisfy his own enormous ego. What follows is a chronicle of the breakdown of their marriage and Margaret’s attempts to gain credit for her highly popular work.
The film is amiable, brightly colored, and manages to hold your gaze for two hours, but with a few tweaks, it might have been great. The first major problem is the casting of Waltz. He simply is too likable of an actor to play the oafish, selfish Walter, and as such the audience never hates his character as much as we are meant to. Heck, Waltz won an Oscar a few years back for making a Nazi officer strangely fun to watch; who thought that would be a good idea for him to play a character who we are supposed to despise!
More importantly, the screenplay never lets us get inside Margaret’s head. Toward the end of the film, she remarks how much it has pained her to see her work taken from her, but we never get to see that anguish. This film could have been a testament to the relationship between art and its creator—what it’s like to bare your soul before the world and how awful it would be to have your work taken from you. But alas, the script (by Burton’s “Ed Wood” partners-in-crime, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski) feels more like a good rough draft than a finished product.
And, finally, nothing about this film, save for a few brief surrealist moments, screams Tim Burton. Frankly, any competent director could have made this film. In an attempt to do something different, Burton has simply become anonymous.
“Big Eyes” is entertaining enough, but it lacks both edge and insight.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Matthew Trzcinski, a resident of Mashpee, is a freshman at Tufts University.