Starring: Christoph Waltz, Amy Adams, Danny Huston
Directed by: Tim Burton (“Ed Wood,” “Alice in Wonderland”)
Written by: Scott Alexander (“Ed Wood”) and Larry Karaszewski (“Ed Wood”)
A return to form effort from wayward director (and Johnny Depp enabler) Tim Burton might elicit more praise on the surface than it deserves when you really dig in strictly because of how long we’ve had to wait for something that wasn’t terrible. “Big Eyes” may, in fact, fit that description, but for now, bask in the refreshment a Burton movie with style and focus—and without gothic weirdness or Depp in a weird hat or even former flame Helena Bonham Carter—brings to the table.
As the film opens, Margaret (Amy Adams) flees an abusive husband and an “Edward Scissorhands”-esque treeless suburb with her daughter Jane (Delaney Raye at first, aging to Madeleine Arthur) in tow. Settling down in 1950s/1960s San Francisco, Margaret works on her artwork, using Jane as a model for a series of paintings featuring big-eyed children. After meeting and marrying fellow artist Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), Walter begins taking credit for Margaret’s work on the “big eyes” paintings, using his innate showmanship to turn the artwork into a kitschy sensation. As tensions escalate between the sidelined Margaret and the increasingly disjointed Walter, Margaret begins to regret the trap she helped build for herself and her art, looking for a way to escape.
For better or worse, the film belongs to Christoph Waltz and his charming-turned-dangerous performance as Walter. He owns every scene he’s in, at times leaving Amy Adams—the story’s protagonist—in the dust in her own story. Waltz as Walter becomes such a commanding presence in the film, you can hardly blame Burton, doing his best work since “Ed Wood,” for turning the film over to this convincing weirdo. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Burton re-teamed on “Big Eyes” with “Ed Wood” screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski for another tale of a strange fellow on the fringes of stardom, clawing his way into relevance no matter the cost. While “Big Eyes” doesn’t have the whimsical spirit of “Ed Wood’s” love-letter to a purveyor of crap, instead diving into the darkness that comes from Keane being cornered by the idea of the truth being revealed, the film rekindles enough of that spirit to make you look forward to Burton’s next project with an open mind.