Tim Burton was my childhood.
I watched Nightmare Before Christmas when I was three and it has shaped my personality ever since. I like his other films, but I am not enough of a weeaboo to turn a blind eye to his faults. And after Dark Shadows, I lost complete faith in his ability as a director. He abandoned any sort of artistic versatility in favor of doing more of the same; whether it be shoving in daddy issues, using actors we pretend are still good, or abandoning any sense of narrative coherency and structure. 90’s Burton was a genius, but 00’s Burton is a hack that makes things according to what will sell, desperately clinging onto what made him famous. His latest release is a perfect example of his creative bankruptcy.
Big Eyes is the story of Margaret D. H. Keane, played by Amy Adams, an artist whose signature is painting children with large eyes. The film details her time working in the shadow of her husband Walter, played by Christoph Waltz, a skilled con artist (no pun intended) that takes credit for her work. As his fame grows, so does her anxiety about lying and the sense of under-appreciation.
After seeing Big Eyes, I am convinced Burton has forgotten how to make movies. I understand this is a true story, but the way things happen is so incoherent and out of place, with no regard for transitions or information before hand.
Characters are introduced and you never see them again, subplots begin and end, and problems are presented and solved all in one scene(s), with 90 seconds between each moment. It was hard to believe that something so simple was a chore to understand. Had things been spaced out and explained, it would make the movie far better.
I find it hard to articulate in words, but it reminds me of a Jodorowsky comic; something happens, then another thing, and another thing. It is a mish-mash of stuff that is easy to follow, but so incoherent, you become lost and confused as to why anything is happening. Jodorowsky can get away with it because he is Jodorowsky, but with film, unless you are trying to be artsy, stick with a traditional Three Act structure that makes it easier to tell a story like that of Margaret D. H. Keane.
In fact, artsy movies are more coherent than Big Eyes. It baffles me that something like Only God Forgives, from Nicholas Winding Refn, is easier to follow than a biopic about an artist.
This is a problem that first presented itself in Dark Shadows. Things just happened because they happened, with no clear implication before hand. Eva Greene was great in that movie, but she could not make up for the mess that could have been fixed in editing.
All problems aside, Big Eyes’ is at least inspiring. It is about a woman, victim to the misogynistic social norms of the 50’s, who achieves success over a man. We see the emotional turmoil Margaret endures when Walter exploits her talent and it is harrowing when she gains the power to fight back.
From a performance standpoint, Amy Adams did a good job of showing Margaret’s feelings on screen. Her detached expressions and sullen voice sell how tortured she is living in the shadow of a cruel man.
Speaking of performances, Christoph Waltz was one of the better parts of this movie, even though he was miss-cast. He brought his usual charisma, but for a character like Walter, charisma is the last thing he needed. Since Waltz is naturally charming, even when he plays a Nazi, the deceptive and cunning nature of Walter becomes moot because you end up liking him. Perhaps that was the point, but the moments when he is overacting and enjoying himself, you like his character more.
It is like staring into infinity. I get the feeling Waltz knew the material was bad and he made a bet with Adams to see how far he could take it before Burton told him to stop. It is quite entertaining.
Now I have already said a lot of bad and I find it unnecessary to go on, but I need to explain a plot hole that utterly destroys any chance of this movie being good.
So after Margaret becomes Walter’s “money printer”, they agree to keep it a secret because they are technically committing fraud. Among the people she is not allowed to tell is her own daughter and her friend DeeAnn, played by Krysten Ritter. But before Margaret ever met Walter, she was painting Big Eyes using her daughter as a model, and it is implied DeeAnn knew Margaret before she moved to San Francisco. In the first scene after she moves, she talks to DeeAnn about selling her art. And when Walter meets Margaret, her daughter points out that she watched her mom paint her early Big Eyes.
So after her daughter and DeeAnn find out her secret, 10 years later in the timeline of the movie, it is meant to be a big reveal. But if they already knew Margaret painted the Big Eyes, why was it such a surprise and why did they not say anything after Walter put his name on them? Need I say more?
Big Eyes is a broken movie and painful to sit through because it is from a man that was my major artistic influence. Burton’s first couple of movies will always be around, but seeing his talent wane before my eyes is like watching somebody get raped; I want it to stop and have the perpetrator punished. But that is just from my perspective. How was the movie overall and is it worth your time and money?
Short answer: not at all. The theme is inspiring and Christoph Waltz’ performance makes it qualify for good-bad status, but you have to deal with an absolute mess to get to it. You should save your time and money for a rental.
What a disappointment.