No one knows what it’s like behind Big Eyes

by Mark Burger

Big Eyes reunites director Tim Burton with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, whose previous big-screen collaboration was the brilliant Ed Wood (1994). Likewise, this is a fact-based tale, awash in a particular period and nostalgia, dramatizing the paintings, mostly featuring children with mournful eyes that became celebrated “” in some artistic circles, anyway “” during the 1960s.

The paintings were the work of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), but the credit is taken by her husband, Walter (Christoph Waltz). Adams is, as always, sincere and appealing, but the character is so passive for so long that Waltz’s whirling dervish of a charming charlatan easy dominates the proceedings, even though the character is transparently a fraud.

There’s a good cast on hand “” Danny Huston (a newspaper columnist and the film’s narrator), Jason Schwartzman, Krysten Ritter, Jon Polito and the always welcome Terence Stamp “” but no one has much to do. Newcomer Delaney Raye and Madeleine Arthur, who play Margaret’s daughter Jane as a youngster and then as a teen, are appealing in an equally limited role.

Bruno Delbonnel’s skin-kissed cinematography is an asset, and long-time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman offers a pleasant score, but Lana Del Rey‘s self-titled theme song only adds weight to the film’s heavy-handed and obvious approach. For those who enjoy Margaret Keane’s work, there’s plenty of it onscreen.

The Alexander/Karaszewski team also explored pop culture and real-life characters in The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) and Auto Focus (2002), the latter a dramatization of the sordid life of “Hogan’s Heroes” star Bob Crane. Big Eyes is their most conventional undertaking, likewise for Burton, and the result is a well-intentioned, but rarely compelling, domestic drama.

Although the film brings Burton back to reality “” so to speak “” after such fanciful excursions as Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Dark Shadows (2012), the director seems confined and rather constricted here. It’s admirable that he should attempt something different, though Big Eyes is not his worst film “” the lamentable (but profitable) 2001 version of Planet of the Apes still holds that dire distinction “” this film doesn’t really work. The idea of a Tim Burton film that culminates in a courtroom just isn’t an enticing one. !

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