Big Eyes


Release: Christmas Day 2014


Written by: Scott Alexander; Larry Karaszewski 

Directed by: Tim Burton

Tim Burton’s latest feels a little on the safe side. Why does that sound like I’m complaining? Shouldn’t the one thing that I ought to be doing right now be praising the director’s efforts for attempting to reach for a new muse? I guess more than anything I’m afraid for Waltz (or Amy Adams for that matter), as I don’t want either of them to end up floating down a chocolate river sometime soon in their careers. That’s a concern that’s as metaphorical as it is literal.

Because you never know with Burton. The next muse he might find could be a tap-dancing lizard. But there is one thing that’s clear about him this time: he’s willing to tone down the weird — or dispense with it completely — if it serves the subject properly. I have time for any artist who is willing to show humility, especially those this far into careers that have thus far worked even moderately well for them. In years past, there hasn’t seemed to have been a great deal of suspense when it came to anticipating (and later experiencing) one of his projects. You know what you are going to get with him, despite not knowing precisely what you are going to be shown on screen. Fine for everyone who has bought into his peculiar brand.

It’s different with Big Eyes. This doesn’t feel like that one thing that has captured another ‘it’ actor in a bubble; mostly that’s due to Christoph Waltz’s inability to be described as such. The man’s talent knows no bounds. Plus, he probably doesn’t want to hang out in a bubble anyway. Adams, the same. And it’s not like this story is so familiar that any sort of contemporary revisitation would become an exercise in embarrassingly transparent superfluity at the corporate level (Dracula: Untold, my big eyes are on you). In a way, Burton ought to be credited for taking something as endearing as ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and renovating it so much it’s no longer recognizable to even its most blue-faced fanatics.

Big Eyes concerns the personal and (lack of) professional life of one Margaret Keane (née Peggy Doris Hawkins), a woman who marries an artist she meets on a sun-spackled San Francisco boulevard because he is a bit of a charmer. He also can provide the financial support she and her daughter Jane both desperately need. That same husband would later claim credit for every piece she created while locked away in an attic outfitted as a dingy art studio. That’s no spoiler if you’re familiar with the Keane story. But I’ll keep my big mouth shut when it comes to revealing the manner in which this typically extravagant director goes about solving Margaret’s problems with her increasingly cartoonishly delusional husband. Suffice it to say this is Burton’s most accessible story in years, even if the subject matter might not appeal.

His film truly showcases some gorgeous artwork, and it is within these delicate frames — portraits, typically of children with gaping, vacant eyes standing against drab backgrounds — that some semblance of Burton’s infectious spirit pops out at the viewer. It’s restrained to the point of manifesting as another artist miming his style, but there’s no plagiarism going on here. On occasion Margaret’s dedication to maintaining the lie that she has helped build around herself, purely out of fear of crumbling the family’s financial empire that has gloriously arisen out of it, contributes to her hallucinations of people having actual big eyes. Once more Tim Burton reveals himself but for only brief interludes.

Big Eyes is something to admire, if not for the way it belies Burton’s fascination with the absurd, then for its distancing from it. It’s not the first time Burton has done something besides messing with skeleton-looking. . .thingies. . .for an inspiration but this is probably the furthest he’s been from actually thinking about them in sometime. There’s a profound respect he has for Margaret’s work here that shall not be denied. After all, in the 1990s he did commission the artist to paint a portrait of his then-girlfriend Lisa Marie. Hopefully that one hangs right beside an eerie oil-on-canvas of Willy Wonka grinning ear-to-ear, standing directly behind a wide-eyed Charlie Bucket.



3-0Recommendation: While Big Eyes isn’t the most inspired piece of film you’ll see this year (whoops this was supposed to be posted last year), this is a passionate love letter to the artistic style of Margaret Keane and her ‘big eyes’ portraits. The narrative brims with a potent fascination with the times, the people, and the art itself and it gives weight to both the artist and the husband behind her in equal measure. Waltz and Adams are both spectacular and their performances make this film memorable. Ultimately, this just doesn’t feel like a Tim Burton film, despite his obvious infatuation with Keane’s unique style.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 105 mins.

Quoted: “Good God, it’s a movement. . .”

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Photo credits: 

31 thoughts on “Big Eyes

  1. Tom! A few things:

    1) I have not seen this, but it sounds about as “meh” as I’ve been hearing.
    2) A great review, per usual! 🙂
    3) I am about to go to bed, so I won’t be back until tomorrow, but…
    4) It is my honest-to-God intention to catch up on every bit of DSB I’ve missed this weekend. Prepare thyself.

    Hope you are well! Miss you, dude!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review. I loved the “Waltz as Johnny Depp” bit. 🙂 I love Waltz but he felt really out of place in this. I enjoyed the story & Amy Adams but the movie was a bit “meh”. Yes, it was at least a million times better than Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. I was a bit mean about Tim Burton’s recent films in my Big Eyes review & someone yelled at me for it. Lol!!!!! It cracks me up when that happens. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You should prob just tell that person to go eff themselves. It’s your opinion, not theirs. 😉

      It really doesn’t get any worse than Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. In fact I started to hate Burton in earnest after the creep put his Edward Scissorhands all over it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lol! I’ve never told someone to go eff themselves on my blog yet. I’ve wanted to a few times, though!!! 😉 I had some funny troll the other day saying I was on drugs for trashing Oz the Great & Powerful. Hilarious!


  3. Oh that movie was so bad. Yet again Adams took home an undeserved Globe but Waltz was even worse. I think his was the worst male performance I’ve seen in 2014.


  4. 5/8 for the best thing Burton has done in years?! It harkens back to Ed Wood and his earlier work. Plus a wonderful performance by Amy Adams. Oh well. We can’t agree on everything. One of my favorites for 2014. 🙂


    • 5/8 for the first thing I’ve seen Burton do in years! Haha. I’ve made a point to skip most of his releases because he’s just too damn weird for my tastes. I’ve never seen ‘Ed Wood’ but heard it’s fantastic, possibly his best work. The performances here made up for a lot, and basically saved this one from getting the very iffy 4/8 score. 😀

      A 5/8 isn’t too bad. (62.5%)


    • It was something I kind of stumbled blindly into. Its quite possible my review doesn’t do this thing justice.

      Thanks for reading Alex!!


  5. I just skimmed the post – I’m looking forward to seeing this soon! I noticed you gave it only a 5/8, so perhaps it’s not as good as I expected?? Looking forward to it nonetheless!


    • 5/8 still breaks down to a 62% rating (62.5% if you wanna get really technical!) so I still regard this film somewhat positively, it’s just not really my bag, Tim Burton isn’t a guy I like too often, and I felt this movie could have been a little more whacky without tipping over into the typical Burton school of weirdness. Idk, whatever it is about Big Eyes just won’t allow me to like it as much as I could have. This was a strange experience for me. lol

      Hope you enjoy it though Kristen. It’s not too bad at all. And Waltz/Adams together are great.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I get what you’re saying! Sometimes I like Tim Burton films, and other times I don’t. I’m excited to experience it for myself. I’m not surprised to hear that about the leads. I’m especially a big fan of Christoph Waltz, so I’m definitely looking forward to seeing him on screen!


  6. I’ll be honest I’d pretty much written off Burton after Alice in Shitland but this looks like it’s right up his alley. Plus Waltz and Adams are always worth watching. Great review Tom; start 2015 as you mean to go on!


    • Alice in Shitland, lol. Copyright that right now sir. 😉

      The duo of Waltz and Adams is pretty spectacular man, I have to concede that. The casting here is absolutely amazing and this bit with Schwartzman has the feel of a Wes Anderson cut-away. It’s great. I might have been a bit harsh on this with the final rating, but you know what — yes. It is a new year, and I suppose it is time to start setting some new standards!


  7. This looked boring to me. I’m glad people are saying the opposite. Okay, I am a tad bit interesting now. Good job Little Tommy!

    I still want to punch Burton for what he did to Planet of The Apes though.


    • Names like ‘Little Tommy’ are the reasons why you’ve never met my ‘friend’ Jack Larson. He now lives in a cage under my kitchen floor. 😉

      Nah jk, you can call me whatever you want. Just no Bitch. Let’s try and keep this page civil.

      On a movie-related note, yeah I’ve heard his Planet of the Apes was a huge huge misfire. Glad I have not laid eyes on it yet. Not sure if I will, it seems like a very odd, even more mainstream choice than him doing something like ‘Big Eyes.’ But maybe not. A world of talking, intelligent apes is pretty bizarre. ‘Big Eyes’ might bore you if you have that impression of it going in already.


      • How about “Little” Tommy Little? Oh boy, that is awful.

        Now that I have watched “Big Eyes”, I can say that I actually enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it should win any awards or that it is anything special, but a decent viewing for sure. It needed a little bit more. There was never any doubt about anything. Everything was obvious.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’ll take “little Tommy drummer boy” over that. 😉

          Man, ‘Big Eyes’ might just not have been my cup of tea. While I did enjoy myself in the performances — Amy Adams is just such a sweetheart, it’s hard to not be charmed by even this ridiculous amount of naivety — there was just something. . . a little too normal about this that kind of disappointed me. Tim Burton’s style is feast or famine for me: he’s either being super ridiculously crazy so I turn away, or he’s doing normal stuff like this. A movie that could have been made by anyone. That criticism needs to be separate from something of the nature of “this movie sucks.” Because it def did not.

          I love how you say everything was ‘obvious’ about it. I couldn’t put it better myself. That was my thought exactly, just couldn’t put it down on paper hah!

          Liked by 1 person

          • I’m with you.

            I think it was in a way though. You liked it. You just seem to have the exact same problem I did. It was kind of like seeing the story unfold on wikipedia or in the newspaper instead of reading it. Not much more. But still interesting and fun to learn! Or in this case, watch.


  8. Rock solid review my friend. As you probably noticed I’m a big fan of this film. You’re right, this definitely doesn’t feel like Burt, but for me that was a positive. He definitely hops outside of his normal quirky dark box. I do wonder if this will be considered a memorable film a few years from now.


    • The lack of funny-looking animated “children”-inspired creatures was refreshing for me. But this felt like such a mainstream production anyone might have been in that director’s chair. We’ve obviously talked about this more on your site, but I will say this is one Burton film I won’t have a problem watching several more times.

      if anything it’ll be great to see Waltz and Adams together again. That’s such a terrific pairing.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Agreed on that! I’m limited to his Django Unchained performance, this and the brief appearance he must have made in The Green Hornet. Lol. There is much for me to explore clearly. 🙂


  9. I am legit shocked at how much I was enthralled by this movie. Even if Waltz was over the top near the end, it brought comedy, intentional or not. Burton should take note: sometimes less is more. Good review man.


    • That’s great news MMJ!! You know, his going into an almost caricature in the court room at the end was less of a bother to me as the. . .and this is going to sound so SO nitpicky. . . ordinary-ness of the way Burton tells the story. Of course, he couldn’t really do much more. I mean he could have rendered this as a cartoon or something weirdly animated as he’s quite known for that, but from a story-structure point of view, I saw nothing in “Big Eyes” that made me say, Ah, so that’s why Burton had an interest in this.

      I became aware only later on during some research that Burton was such a fan of Margaret Keane’s work and that he had her paint a picture of his girlfriend at the time back in the 1990s. So given that inspiration it makes sense I suppose.


  10. I think Christoph and Amy are safe from any seductive charms by Burton. I think this would be a solid film, not a great one, to see because the cast is worth watching. Three cheers to Tim Burton for trying something different. I hope this is an attempt at reinvention–good luck! Nice review, Tom.


    • Let’s hope they are Cindy! Wouldn’t it be odd seeing the regular pairing up of Burton/Waltz? Burton/Adams? haha.

      The cast is great, you’re right there and this isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. I just was looking for something more here and perhaps that’s not entirely fair of me to say when this is completely un-Burton-like in almost every way.


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