‘Big Eyes’ Story of Greed and Domination

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There’s lots going on in Tim Burton’s latest, “Big Eyes.” On the surface, it’s the true story of painter Margaret Keane,whose pictures, mostly of children with over-accentuated eyes, became a brief sensation in the 50’s and 60’s. Contained therein you find a story of greed and domination, one of a woman’s struggle for identity in a very different era, and an ongoing exploration of art vs. kitsch.

In fact, the screenwriters here are the same pair who penned 1994’s “Ed Wood.” Keane is played by Amy Adams, and we first see her leaving her suburban married existence for a brilliantly portrayed beat-era San Francisco. With a child to support, no job, and her paintings not paying the bills, she agrees, almost on a whim, to marry Walter, Christopher Waltz, a wealthy real estate developer and fellow artist, at least in his ownmind. Keying off Walter’s chauvinistic (but maybe true at the time)statement that “people don’t buy lady art,” they begin an arrangement where Margaret creates the art, and Walter signs, and aggressively markets it, along with himself. The arrangement pays off materially for both of them, but the lie, and the accompanying subjugation, drive Margaret to end it as Walter’s behavior approaches the dangerous.

Waltz and Adams are both Golden Globe nominees for best actor and actress for their work here. Sometimes it seems they may be playing past each other-–and the Waltz character can be cartoonish–but whether that’s a problem or just complicated (or kitschy) portrayal of a very messy reality is difficult to say. The triumphant closing courtroom scenes may be unique not just in film history, but in history itself. Just desserts are served up in post-script…