Thursday, April 4, 2019

Despite Some Quality Production Design And Amy Adam Acting, Big Eyes Is Less Than Stellar

I once ate at a Tex-Mex eatery that delivered the best quesadillas, they were just scrumptious and filled with chicken that had been grilled just right. They were a delight to chow down on and left me with a delightful aftertaste that constantly reminded my tastebuds of what a glorious meal we'd just consumed. Alas, a few hours later these quesadillas ended up giving me stomach trouble something fierce, I had difficulty even sleeping that night because of how upset my stomach was. Tim Burton's Big Eyes is kind of like those fateful quesadillas that betrayed my insides, pleasant to experience but it ends up making your stomach churn afterwards.

Big Eyes is based on the true story of painter Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), a painter who escaped her husband with her young daughter in tow to establish a life for herself. While struggling to sell her paintings, she meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a fellow painter who is immediately smitten by Margaret. The two begin a romance that helps Margaret secure custody of her daughter and they eventually try to sell their artwork together, which include Margaret's paintings of young girls with particularly enormous eyes. Eventually, Walter begins to claim all the credit for these paintings, which doesn't sit well with Margaret for obvious reasons.

This deceit starts a lie that spans decades and kicks off an artistic empire that eventually culminates in a court battle over who is actually responsible for painting these unique pieces of art. If nothing else, at least this tale of painters looks pretty in terms of production design and costumes. The decision has been made to populate the world of Big Eyes with as many bright colors as possible that pop right off the screen to match a similar color palette found in the works of Margaret Keane and it gives Big Eyes a unique visual aesthetic that's mighty pleasing to the eyes. Anything covered in the color blue especially looks exquisite as filmed by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel.

Big Eyes actually might be the most visually pleasing movie Tim Burton has directed since Sweeney Todd  and a fine reminder that his movies can still bring up creative visuals when an extra bit of effort is made. Amy Adams also delivers one of the stronger lead performances we've seen in one of Burton's recent works, an achievement that's about as surprising to hear as a good song on a Janelle Monae album. Tasked with playing a character who's intentionally depicted as a subdued character for much of the runtime, Adams still communicates plenty of personality in her depiction of Keane and she's especially good at portraying the characters determined nature peeking out even in her most vulnerable moments.

The production design and the lead performance from Amy Adams keep one reasonably engaged while the movie plays, but afterward, it's hard not to look back on Big Eyes and realize that the screenplay by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski is, more often than not, a mess. Heck, even while watching it, I noticed how the screenplay suffers from a problem of having characters just state certain major developments (at one point Margaret mentions how distant she's become from her daughter, something we've never seen) rather than showing the audience such developments in a more organic fashion. Other drawbacks in the script, namely a superfluous narrator played by Danny Huston, serve as even greater hindrances to the overall story.

Worst of all in the script is a third act that sees a pivotal trial between the two characters just go by in a flash, this is a sequence that should feel emotionally crucial for the character of Margaret Keane but it ends up rushed and predictable instead. It also allows for the worst parts of Christoph Waltz's lead performance, which goes far hammier than any of his performances in the various live-action blockbusters he's appeared in. Heck, I think he was more restrained in Epic than he was in Big Eyes. It's a performance that I think less of the more I think on it and the same goes for Big Eyes as a whole. Amy Adams and some lovely production design cannot save these movies that leave you more unsatisfied than those fateful quesadillas I once devoured.

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