Is it possible to build a successful life based on a huge lie? What happens when the truth comes to light? Will people believe you or the lie? That’s part of the premise behind the DVD release of “Big Eyes,” which had one artist struggling with those very questions for the duration of the film. The film’s quirky charm and intriguing first half made it worth watching. It’s just a shame that the latter half was plagued by a somewhat sluggish pace as it tried to wrap things up too quickly.
“Big Eyes” followed Margaret (Amy Adams) who escaped a crumbling marriage with her young daughter Jane in tow as she struggled to make it on her own as an artist in the late 1950s when society believed that women should stay at home to focus on all things domestic. She managed to get a job at a furniture factory that helped pay the bills and keep a roof over her daughter’s head. While she focused on her independence, Margaret came across an extremely charming fellow artist in Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) who told her stories of his days studying art in Paris that made him a natural to paint various scenes of Parisian street life. His paintings managed to secure him respect in an Italian restaurant and other places, but Walter wasn’t able to sell his work in a nearby local art gallery run by Ruben (Jason Schwartzman) who looked down on Walter every time they crossed paths. After a pressing legal situation brought on by her ex-husband, Walter and Margaret married rather suddenly to keep Jane with her mother. They also started working together on their different works, but things didn’t gather steam until a very public incident garnered some attention to Margaret’s painting of children with rather large eyes. Sadly, she didn’t get the credit for her own work, but her seemingly devoted husband who repeatedly lied about doing the paintings himself and collecting the money that came his way. Walter managed to befriend a high profile journalist in Dick Nolan (Danny Huston) and the attention of many others. At first, Margaret accepted the fact that she couldn’t tell a single living soul about the secret that she was keeping, but she started having to shut out her close friend DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter) and her daughter as well. The success of the big eyes got so big that one of Walter’s risky business moves got even bigger, until one backfired to the point where Walter’s true colors became apparent. Margaret was forced to decide whether to stay or go. If she chose the latter, would she have to take the secret to the grave?
In terms of questions, it was a given that the movie was going to resolve everything; since it was based on the very true story of Margaret Keane’s life and how her paintings became very iconic almost by sheer accident. Viewers got a glimpse of what it was like for a single mother to raise a child in the 50s without a man by her side. Sadly, it was for too brief of a time because the character was forced to unintentionally embrace the stereotype that she needed a man in order to function in every day society. Luckily, the film’s ending righted that wrong before it was too late. In the movie, the only thing that made it hard to fathom was that everyone seemed to be so taken by Walter’s charm that they somehow overlooked his apparent flaws and lack of artistic talent to the point that he got rich off of everyone else’s ignorance. It was nice though that everyone got what was coming to them storywise in the end. The film managed to deliver a very whimsical tone that allowed viewers to get sucked into the whimsy that Waltz’s Walter delivered, even when the character was at his absolute worst. The only downside was that the film made it a little too obvious that Walter wasn’t what he was cracked up to be. If the story managed to deliver a few of the hints a little more subtly, the reveal would’ve carried a little more heft. Overall, the film’s charm and the talent of the cast helped to make viewers root for, or against a particular character. It’s just a little disappointing that the latter portion of the film involving the legal case seemed to be more of an afterthought than an actual plot point. Viewers weren’t even aware that the case took years to resolve, because the film made it seem a lot shorter. At least, the satisfactory conclusion was worth it in the end.
In terms of breakout performances, Waltz and Adams led the pack because the movie rested solely on their shoulders because their characters had two different points of view on everything. Waltz’s Walter believed that art was guaranteed to make untold riches, even when Walter did none of the legwork himself; or the talent to do so. He managed to embody Walter with a level of both the charm of a used car salesman looking to earn his commission with the combination of a lethal Gordon Gekko with someone doublecrossed him. A prime example would a scene where an art critic gave a savagely negative review to a mural that Margaret painted for the World’s Fair. Waltz demonstrated his anger at the man that he believed attacked him in print that he nearly stabbed him as a result. Waltz had demonstrated in past films that he can do both dark comedy, drama and play the villain. He’s slated to do all of the above in the next Bond film, but he needs to try different types of roles to show moviegoers a different side to the Oscar Wining actor sooner rather than later. He does have a nice rapport with Adams, but that on-screen chemistry was only briefly touched upon before Walter’s true motives became quite apparent. Adams, on the other hand, had the challenging task of carrying the entire film on her shoulders as the put upon heroine who was forced to claw her way from her worst nightmare only to fight even harder for her work. She managed to perfectly express Margaret’s happiness over the outcome of the court case with a smile and a subtle victory reveal of the painting that helped her expose Walter’s lies once and for all. It’s just a shame that Adams’s performance didn’t garner her more awards praise, but it was definitely worth remembering none the less.
Verdict: Adams and Waltz gave top notch performances as the heroine and the villain, but the film’s slightly uneven pace towards the end threatened to derail everything.
Movie Score: 3 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: PG-13
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)