MOVIE REVIEW: Big Eyes

I’m so glad I saw Big Eyes before Amy Adams won the Golden Globe as best Lead Actress in a Motion Picture- Comedy or Musical.

bigeyesThe movie Big Eyes could have been called Big Lie, for that’s what Walter and Margaret Keane shared. The paintings of children with eyes disproportionally huge peepers were painted by Margaret (Amy Adams), but Walter (Christoph Waltz) was superior at schmoozing and promoting; surely him taking credit for her paintings would be OK, wouldn’t it? He liked telling the story of his time painting in Paris, so he could chat up the press about his wife’s art, even if he claimed them as his own.

I’ve been fascinated by the effect of the lie, especially since I read the book Lying by Sissela Bok some years ago. Either the lie eats away at you, or it overtakes you, as the lie becomes the new reality. That’s what happens in Big Eyes.

I’m so glad I saw this movie before Amy Adams won the Golden Globe as Best Lead Actress in a Motion Picture- Comedy or Musical. I really liked the performance, but it’s subtle. Anyone expecting scene-chewing will be disappointed.

Big Eyes is a comedy or musical? Music DOES play a part in that the Cal Tjader group is playing at the hungry i nightclub where Walter initially hawks the paintings. Vince Guaraldi, the pianist/composer most associated with the Charlie Brown music, played with Tjader’s group for a time.

The real situation comedy comes at the end, in the courtroom scene, though the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair narrative was darkly funny, I suppose, with Terence Stamp as a New York City art critic; now HE can chew scenery.

I’ve seen Amy Adams in about a dozen films, from The Muppets to American Hustle. But I’d never seen Christoph Waltz, even though he was also in a Muppets film, plus more serious fare, such as Django Unchained. He’s very good here as, initially, a very sweet and charming guy.

Some guy in my row in the theater said afterward, “That was a Tim Burton film?” It wasn’t particularly Burtonesque, except for one scene, teased in the trailer. This is not a BIG film, telling an epic narrative, but as one critic noted, an “entertaining take on a pop culture footnote.”

One of the negative reviews, by Rick Kisonak, notes: “It suggests Margaret was a browbeaten victim of her husband’s greed while making it clear she was actually a willing participant in the ruse.” I think the critic, and he’s not the only one, missed the point about how subtle manipulation can take place in relationships. He’s also putting post-feminist values in a pre-feminism situation.

Interesting how religion plays a role in Margaret’s narrative, at two different points, to very different results.

Last observation: the story is based on real events. Those paintings of kids with big eyes REALLY creeped me out when I was a child, and they seemed to be EVERYWHERE, part of the real Walter’s marketing genius.