Big Eyes review: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's most boring film so far

Deepanjana Pal

Jan 09, 2015 09:13:15 IST

Perhaps the best-written character in Tim Burton's Big Eyes is the Hawaiian judge (James Saito) who appears at the end of the film. He starts off perplexed, is then confounded and finally irritated by the trial he has to preside over. There's even some suspense when it's time for sentencing: will he give the benefit of doubt to the liar and steer a safe, conventional course? That's more of a story arc than anyone or anything else gets in Big Eyes.

There was every reason to get excited about Burton's new film about how artist Margaret Keane's paintings were passed off as her husband Walter's works, and how she ultimately was able to get out from under his thumb. The title the children with saucer-eyes that Keane drew, who stared back at the viewer with an eerie cuteness. For more than a decade, the world knew that these paintings were by Walter Keane, but there's no such deception as far as this film's audience is concerned. We know within the first few scenes that Walter (Christoph Waltz) is exploiting Margaret (Amy Adams). The next 90 minutes are spent watching this viscerally unhappy couple remind us that he's taking credit that is due to her again and again, and again.

Big Eyes review: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz in Tim Burtons most boring film so far

A still from Big Eyes. Image courtesy: Facebook.

Adams tries to rise above the bland script that just barely scratches the surface of an artist's life. However, she can't make up for how writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski choose to cheer for Margaret without actually delving into her art. Did Margaret see herself as those miserable waifs instead of a grown woman and mother? Was her art really was as bad as critics said it was? Did having to churn out paintings in an era of posters and prints change Margaret as an artist? Why did Keane's portraits touch people the way they did?

It's not as though the script ignores Margaret's artistic aspect in order to focus on her personal life. Walter and Margaret's relationship has barely any touches of grey — he's the villain and she's the victim, full stop. Big Eyes doesn't explore whether Margaret was only living with him out of fear or why it was so easy for Walter to convince Margaret to isolate herself. Still, Adams' limpid eyes -- swimming with tears that she won't let fall, flashing with helpless rage, glinting with insecurity -- add depth to the flat and stereotypical abuse victim that the script etches.

Unfortunately, Adams is overshadowed by Oscar-winner Waltz's performance. As Walter, Waltz makes Shakti Kapoor in a Rajshri Production seem restrained. Watching the actor literally prance around on screen makes you wish Big Eyes was a Quentin Tarantino film because then, at least we'd have the satisfaction of seeing Walter subjected to spectacular violence. It would go some way to make up for what Waltz subjects us to with his performance.

Even more criminal is how staid Big Eyes looks visually despite having Bruno Delbonnel as its cinematographer. This man's filmography includes Amelie, Across the Universe and Inside Llewyn Davis, but barely a single frame in this film betrays Delbonnel's talent. It's boring, piastic prettiness and ironically for a film about art, none of Big Eyes' visuals linger in memory.

Big Eyes is so bland and without insight, it's difficult to believe it's been directed by Burton. More often than not, you know a Burton film within seconds (and not just because Johnny Depp's name appears in the credits). There's a distinctive aesthetic to Burton's work -- dark, delicate, creepy and yet adorable -- whether it's animation or live action. Burton also has a gift for finding the heroic in that which others consider ridiculous or weird. (Think of Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands and Corpse Bride, for example.) Plus, Burton is apparently a fan of Margaret Keane's work. Despite all this, Big Eyes is a film that has as much life as a frozen leftovers and wastes actors like Adams, Jason Schwartzmann and Terence Stamp.

The real disappointment of Big Eyes is Burton himself, and that's reason enough for many of us to look as miserable as the waifs that Margaret painted.

Updated Date: Jan 09, 2015 09:13:15 IST

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