With Big Eyes, Tim Burton takes a break from his spate of auto-pilot adaptations (be it butchering Alice in Wonderland or remaking his own early short films) to tell a more engaging tale than the dreary films of his recent creative slump. Based on true events which took place in the 1950s and 60s, it explores a decade in the life of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams, reliably strong in the lead), who spent years producing cutesy paintings of big-eyed, miserable children that captured the public’s imagination (and their cash). The only problem is that no one knew the paintings were hers, as emotionally manipulative husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) passed himself off as the artist and claimed all the fame.
A reunion with his Ed Wood screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Big Eyes is Burton’s most interesting film in quite some time, and the most personal if the thinly-veiled metaphor of the narrative – artist is forced to perpetually crank out the same old money-spinning kitsch for profit – is anything to go by.
That said, it’s still very choppy in places: co-star Danny Huston's occasional narration doesn't provide any insight, while one too many story interruptions from straw man figures in the supporting cast disrupt the film’s dramatic drive and emotional effect. Too much of the last act, in particular, veers into ill-fitting comedy territory with Waltz’s more manic acting touches.
Big Eyes works best when it sticks to the classic “woman’s picture” melodrama stylings of its story’s time period, which Burton does seem to be aiming for much of the time. One wonders how good a Douglas Sirk take on the Keanes might have been.