BIG EYES Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams
Credit: TWC

For a while there, it was beginning to look like Tim Burton had become a prisoner of his own Tim Burton-ness. Frankenweenie, Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride — with the exception of 2007’s Sweeney Todd, the past decade has felt like a dead end of the director’s recycled tricks and tics. Actually, I haven’t been caught off guard by one of his pictures since 1994’s Ed Wood. With his latest, Big Eyes — a stranger-than-fiction story about the painter Margaret Keane — Burton has reunited with his Ed Wood writing team (Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski) and come up with his most surprisingly human film in ages. Perhaps coincidentally, it’s the least recognizably Burtonesque film he’s ever attempted and one of the most modestly budgeted. The radiant Amy Adams stars as Margaret, a struggling divorcée who arrives with her young daughter in late-’50s San Francisco looking to pick up the pieces from a brutal, busted marriage. Her haunting portraits of innocent, saucer-eyed waifs are regarded as kitsch by the art-world establishment (embodied by a sniffy Jason Schwartzman and an even sniffier Terence Stamp). But then she meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a fast-talking charmer who sparks to her paintings right before the rest of the world does and starts taking credit for her work. The film traces the power struggle in the Keanes’ marriage and upends the June Cleaver subservience of the era as Margaret fights to reclaim the credit she’s due. While I wish that Waltz would dial down his tendency to go cartoonishly broad, Adams is perfect. She makes her character’s awakening a quietly aching roar of empowerment. Despite its sharp feminist sting, Big Eyes never loses its light touch. Maybe the lesson here is that Burton should venture out of his dark, creepy comfort zone more often. B+

Big Eyes
  • Movie
  • 105 minutes