In the 1990s, screenwriters Scott Alexander and
Larry Karaszewski created a small cache of wonderful oddball film
biographies. Unlike the expected Hollywood stance of honoring the lives of
great heroes, Alexander and Karaszewski took a look at lives of quiet
The characters that fascinated the duo included
arguably the worst director in film history (1994's Ed Wood), a
pornographer and unexpected first-amendment hero (1996's The People vs.
Larry Flynt) and an eccentric comedian who died young (1999's Man on the
Moon, about Andy Kaufman). The scripts attracted terrific directors –
Tim Burton helmed Ed Wood and Milos Forman filmed Flynt and
However, despite the fact that all three films got
terrific reviews and some Oscar notice, they were mostly overlooked by the
movie-going public, as People vs. Larry Flynt became a minor hit and
the other two sank with little wake in the box office pool. When those
films did not become bigger hits, Alexander and Karaszewski turned their
attention to more traditional movie fare, stuff like the dumb Norm MacDonald
comedy Screwed, the kid-flick Agent Cody Banks and the
actually very decent Stephen King adaptation 1408. After 1408
became a reasonably-sized success, the writers faded into the background
again, with no films or TV projects since.
Seven years later, the guys are back in a big way.
They have co-written a film version of R.L. Stine's popular Goosebumps
young adult horror books. They are also putting together a TV series
called American Crime Story. But most excitingly, they have returned
to their eccentric biopic sideline with this movie. Reuniting with Ed
Wood director Tim Burton (and, despite his impressive reputation, this
is easily the horribly uneven Burton's best film since that movie 20 years
ago) the duo takes a look at yet another forgotten pop culture phenomenon.
Big Eyes turns
it's wide-eyed gaze on Walter and Margaret Keane. Margaret (Amy Adams) was
an early 60s divorcee who was trying to use her talent as a painter to raise
her young child. She had a very distinct and oddball style, painting
pathetic looking small children with huge, limpid eyes.
Margaret fell in with Walter (Christoph Waltz), a
charismatic charlatan who was trying to peddle a bunch of derivative Paris
street scenes to San Francisco art dealers. When Walter and Margaret got
married, he started taking her paintings along with him to try to sell. But
when Margaret's work started getting significantly more attention than his
own, Walter claimed her work as his own.
Soon the paintings had become a sensation, making
the couple a huge amount of money. However the meek Margaret was constantly
feeling guilty about the fact that she was letting her husband take credit
for her work and committing a massive fraud on the public.
It's an odd, small, intricate story, which is
probably why this film works so well. It takes a look back at a
pre-equality world where a woman like Margaret could be so concerned about
her career and her daughter that she would let her husband steal from her.
Adams plays the character with a heartbreaking tentativeness and sense of
worthlessness. Waltz does a good job also playing the glad-handing
huckster, a man capable of great cruelty covered by a slickster smile. He
also does a good job at defining the man's delusion – the fact that his
character is not able to distinguish that the kitschy paintings are not fine
art, as well as his ready willingness to grab the spotlight from his
Burton's direction is definitely less fussy than it
has been in quite some time (though a short scene where Margaret sees
everyone in a grocery store with her trademark big eyes has the director
written all over it) and takes a sweet and fun look at the worlds of both
fine art and pop art.
Big Eyes is
certainly not a vital story, but it is an intriguing and enjoyable one. It
fits in quite well with Alexander and Karaszewski's rogue's gallery of
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2014 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: December 31, 2014.