A review of Big Eyes

More stories from Jandi Palmer


Starring golden globe winner Amy Adams, Big Eyes is a film exposing the relationship between famed artist Margaret Keane and her manipulative husband, played by Christopher Waltz ( who’s phenomenal in any role he plays) as Walter Keane.

Margaret Keane, born Peggy Doris Hawkins, was born in 1927 in Tennessee.  Even at a young age she would sketch people with larger, disproportionate eyes. She married her first husband and later divorced him in the 1950’s.  In the fifties, divorce was not a fashionable thing to do.  People did not really respect divorced women, let alone women at this time.  Margaret took her young child and moved to California to try to find a new job and start over.  With little luck over the years, she results to the streets to sell caricatures of people and small children.  She asked for modest amounts of money, and made a beautiful portrait. She then meets Walter, whom flamboyantly sells his landscapes of Paris as he boasts of his short time he had there.  Immediately smitten by his charm after their first meet, Walter asks her to marry him after news of Margaret’s first husband trying to take away her daughter is revealed.

Swirled into the married life yet again, Margaret is happy, but in a contented sense.  She now is a stay at home mom and painter, which makes her giddy, and Walter tries to sell his paintings to galleries whilst holding down a solid job.  His hopes of selling his paintings, or even having them displayed in an establishment, are shot down after every stop.  Ultimately, Walter’s frustration and anger (foreshadowing his true identity) allow him to take advantage of Margaret by posing as the artist for her “big eye” paintings.  At first hear of what he has done, Margaret is immediately angered and tells him to never do this again– but that does not stop him.  He eventually manipulates her to believe that what she solely wants is for her paintings to be enjoyed and loved by the public, so it doesn’t matter whose name is on the canvas. Flowered with the idea that she would not have to work, and that she could have her own studio and paint all day, she reluctantly agreed.

Years and years pass and Walter’s ego grows.  Margaret is slowly eaten alive by her lie, and lying to everyone including her beloved daughter.  Soon, after the Keane paintings are an immense success, Margaret discovers that Walter has been a fraud from the start.  Even his Paris portraits were not his own! And that was her breaking point– she had become numb, and refused to fuel his fire any longer.  She up and moved, yet again fleeing from a bad marriage, and took her and her daughter to Hawaii.

After years without contact from Walter, he finally finds her and demands a new painting, or he will not divorce her, and he if he did, he would take away her daughter.  This final threat was enough for Keane.  She sent him paints (with her signature), and then announced to the world for the first time that she was the true artist behind the paintings.  An entire fiasco of lawsuits have unfolded, and not even the judge wanted to deal with Walter and his elaborate theatrics that he used to try to manipulate the jury and kill time– so the judge ordered both of the “artists” to paint.  Walter Keane, in one hour, did not produce a stroke on his canvas; Margaret however finished an entire “big eye” painting concluding the trial.  In the end, Margaret Keane, silent for all those years, won her life, her daughter, and her paintings back into her control.

Tim Burton adds his original film flair in this film by the vibrant colours that surround fifties and sixties fashion. The opening scene of this film, in fact, is eccentrically similar to that of one of his famous past films, Edward Scissorhands. His projection of Margaret and Walter’s relationship is also darkened by Burton’s filming style.  Even though the movie is surrounded by beautiful loud colours,  the darkness that surrounds how Margaret feels and is treated, adds an eerie element to this film.  Amy Adams, who does somewhat resemble Keane in her early life, plays this role so beautifully, that she acquired a Golden Globe.  Her performance of submissive Keane makes the victory over her husband even sweeter and more exciting.  Thorought the entire film you wonder why she never says a word to her daughter or friend, even when he is so clearly mentally abusing her.  Amy Adams performance gave a realistic feel that made you shout  , “YES!” when the judge asks for the argument to be settled by an art contest.  But Amy is not the only groundbreaking performance in this film, Waltz’s role as the sadistic manipulative husband is truly what pushes Adam’s performance to soaring heights.

Overall this film is an excellent adaptation of Keane’s life and trials.  The actors chosen to portray the main characters were superb, and Burton’s role as director takes this film to the greatness that we now know. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys art or an underdog story, especially if you like Tim Burton.