Monday, 29 December 2014

Review: Big Eyes

World of Blackout Film Review

Big Eyes Poster

Big Eyes (SPOILERS*1)
Cert: 12A / 106 mins / Dir. Tim Burton
WoB Rating: 5/7

About twenty minutes into Tim Burton's Big Eyes, you have to wonder if the awkwardly accelerated, whirlwind romance between Margaret (Amy Adams) and Walter (Christoph Waltz) is a deliberate discomfiture to set the audience on an uneasy edge for the rest of the film, or just slapdash screenwriting. As the story powers through its checkpoints toward what should be a massively satisfying ending, you rather suspect it's the latter of the two.

The 1950s/60s story of acclaimed artist Margaret Keane (nee Hawkins) and her husband Walter, who for years passed off her work as his own, coercing her into producing hundreds of original pieces for millions of subsequent posters and prints, is told for the most part through Adams and Waltz's performances. And while I very much like Christoph, he's now at the point where he seems to end up just playing Christoph Waltz*2. Amy Adams fares slightly better, but neither headliner gets the opportunity to spread their wings and deliver the performance you know they're capable of, mired by the speeding-bullet screenplay and a heavy-handed script. Worse still, while Waltz gets to be the moustache-twirling villain, his scene-grabbing charisma a necessity, Adams' Margaret is under-represented to the point where her character drops through sympathetic until the viewer actually begins to resent her timidity (which, correct me if I'm wrong, is the precise opposite of the point of the film).

The tale of the swindle is told in a nuts-and-bolts way, but a story about Art (capital A) needs a far more delicate touch, and Big Eyes could have been more sincere and surreal, candid and confessional. That it's not lies more at the feet of writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski than director Tim Burton, I think. Speaking of Burton, other than the kitsch 1960s setting and the subject matter of Margaret's paintings, there's little of the Kookiness™ you'd expect from him, here. In fact, the brief segments where Margaret has semi-hallucinogenic visions of real-world people with huge eyes would have done the film huge favours by being expanded, to help the audience experience the paranoia and guilt as she does. Alas, they only serve as an all-too-brief reminder of who's directing.

Other hiccups come in the form of a narration from Danny Huston's San Francisco gossip columnist, Dick Nolan, which is so sporadic that when it re-appears every half hour or so, it feels unnecessary and even intrusive. The best eyebrow-raiser is reserved for Madeleine Arthur as Margaret's 16yr old daughter in the final act of the film, when she announces "I'm not a little girl any more!", underlining the fact that she looks nothing like Delaney Raye, who was playing her younger character half an hour earlier.

The most crucial part of Big Eyes, the courtroom showdown where Margaret challenges Walter legally over the creation of the artworks, seems to spend more energy on Mr Keane's comical attempts at legal self-representation than it does on the argument-settler of actually paining a picture. When the final victory arrives for Margaret, rather than bringing euphoria, it feels expected and oddly understated. Even the pre-credits slides, showing photographs and updates of the actual Keanes, don't carry as much weight or closure as they should.

Despite all my moaning (and how), Big Eyes is still in itself a good film, but I think the awe-inspiring story and Bruno Delbonnel's gorgeous cinematography are far more interesting than the screenplay.

I was ready to be swept away by Margaret Keane's story, but instead I was only carried along.

Is the trailer representative of the film?
The trailer suggests slightly more than the film has to deliver.

Did I laugh, cry, gasp and sigh when I was supposed to?
Kinda, but not as much as I'd hoped I would.

Does it achieve what it sets out to do?
From a story-telling perspective, absolutely. From an emotional one, not so much.

Pay at the cinema, Rent on DVD or just wait for it to be on the telly?
Cinema if you're a Burton/Adams/Waltz fan; for everyone else, this is a Sunday night DVD.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Will I watch it again?
At some point.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream?
There isn't.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

And my question for YOU is…
When Margaret is nervously going through her portfolio at the furniture company, was I the only one thinking of Old Gregg?

"I call this one Baileys… I call this one Baileys…"

*1 Yes, I'm very aware that this is a 'true story' from the early 1960s and as such is pretty hard to call 'spoilers' on, but much of my review centres around the actual events of the plot. Look, don't complain because I've given the end away, alright?

*2 And not to sound too catty about it, but I can see why that would appeal to serial Depp-enabler, Tim Burton.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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