Big Eyes Parent Review
Whether or not you like her work, it is evident by Tim Burton's movie making style that he is interested in Margaret's art - perhaps too evident, if the lack of subtlety is meant to be a parallel.
I remember Margaret Keane’s work—those big-eyed waifs staring out from posters and postcards in my childhood during the late 60s. Even to me as a little kid, those children with the black, empty eyes seemed a little creepy. Now I understand Margaret’s characters were likely reflecting the dark place she was in when she created them.
In the 1950s Margaret (played by Amy Adams) packed her daughter Jane (Delaney Raye) into the back of the family car and drove away from her oppressive marriage to Frank Ulbrich. She landed in San Francisco without any marketable skills other than her love of painting. When Frank threatens to have the courts declare her an unfit mother and take back their daughter, Margaret hesitantly agrees to wed fellow painter Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) so she can provide a stable home life.
We know it’s not a good idea from the minute Walter whisks her off for a paradise-like wedding in Hawaii. In fact, thanks to the movie’s overstated approach to telling this true story, there’s not a lot of question about what’s coming next or where the plotline will take us. Likewise, it’s no surprise when Walter offers to promote his new wife’s paintings under his own name, stating that people are less likely to buy “lady” art. Eager to have her heartfelt work showcased in a pubic forum, Margaret reluctantly agrees, even going so far as to identify him as the person behind the pictures.
A masterful salesman, Keane soon has Margaret’s artwork in the hands of some very famous people (Natalie Wood and Joan Crowford were among those who commissioned a Keane portrait). And he basks in the limelight that comes with the newfound attention. Meanwhile he keeps the real artist sequestered away in her home studio churning out painting after painting. But Walter is so worried about being exposed that he refuses to let even Margaret’s daughter Jane know what her mother is up to in the locked room.
Unfortunately not everyone in the art world is smitten with Keane’s talent. And although Walter has a local newspaper columnist eating out of his hands, several critics continue to sneer at the doe-eyed children. However, it is Margaret that is the most damaged by both the criticism and the fame. Unable to respond to either, she is forced to remain the supportive, silent wife of the now-famous artist Walter Keane.
Whether or not you like her work, it is evident by Director Tim Burton’s movie making style that he is interested in Margaret’s art—perhaps too evident at times. Like the oversized eyes in Margaret’s paintings, there isn’t a lot of subtlety in this script or nuances to the characters. Walter’s blustering bravado is the foil to Margaret’s acquiescence. She only acts when driven to the absolute end of her rope, which inevitably (and obviously) will happen because of Walter.
It is easy to judge Margaret for being overly submissive, especially when applying 21st century options to her situation. Yet looking at her life through the eyes of 1950s social mores makes it hard not to have some sympathy for the divorced, working mom whose alternatives weren’t as plentiful as they are today.Directed by Tim Burton. Starring Amy Adams, Krysten Ritter, Christoph Waltz . Running time: 106 minutes. Theatrical release December 25, 2014. Updated May 18, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Big Eyes here.
Big Eyes Parents Guide
Talk about the movie with your family…
One art critic refers to Margaret’s work at kitschy. What is the definition of good art? Who gets to define what is good or bad? Why is art so personal? Is art, like fashion, something that is trendy? What kind of painting, photography or sculpture appeals to you?
Walter, if not a talented artist, is a consummate salesman. Why did he decide to take credit for Margaret’s work rather than becoming her agent and promote her work as her own? How does his own dream of being an artist play into his decision? More than even being a recognized artist, what does Walter seem to yearn for the most?
One critic is accused of critiquing art because he can’t produce it himself. His response is “Oh dear, that motley chestnut again.” What qualifications do critics (art, literary, fashion, movie) need to have? Is their opinion any more valid than your own? Can a critic help you look at something differently or have a greater appreciation for it?