If it weren’t for the marketing drive, Big Eyes would not immediately announce itself as the work of Hollywood’s gothiest auteur. Burton reigns himself in well below Ed Wood quirk levels in his portrait of painfully shy Margaret Keane, the artist who created a 1960s kitsch sensation with her paintings of huge-eyed waifs, soon plastered in poster and postcard format across a million suburban walls, and Walter Keane, the domineering husband who drove the hype and took the credit (played by a near-quivering Amy Adams and a kooky-to-unhinged Christoph Waltz, respectively).
But the truth will out, both in narrative and tone: the fantastical seeps through in the neon glow and psycho pastels of the mid-century colour palette, the occasional ill-judged hallucination and Waltz’s perversely enjoyable slimeball pantomime. Loins should be thoroughly girded for the courtroom climax, apparently based in fact but dialed well beyond 11. Though he has plenty of fun with the set-dressing (and sniffy art snobs), Burton makes few value judgements on the art itself in his quietest and perhaps most female-centred misfit yarn to date – kitsch abounds and the style wears a little insubstantial, but tenderness wins the day.
Big Eyes | Directed by Tim Burton (USA 2014) with Amy Adams, Cristoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter. Starts April 23.
Originally published in issue #137, April 2015