Movie review: Big Eyes

My husband, knowing that I wanted to see Big Eyes, rented the movie from Redbox over the weekend. We didn't get a chance to watch it until Monday night but I'm glad we did.

In case you are not familiar with the movie, Big Eyes tells the story of Margaret Keane, an artist who is famous for painting children with large eyes. After she left her first husband in the 1950s, Margaret did what she could to support herself and her young daughter, Jane. She found a job painting art on children's furniture. But she never stopped painting the big eyed children. It was during an outdoor art exhibition that she met Walter Keane, who would eventually become her second husband. 

Walter was an artist himself. However, where Margaret painted people, Walter painted Parisian streets. When Margaret's first husband threatened to take custody of their daughter, Walter proposed to Margaret. Now there would be a stable home for Jane. 

Ever the businessman, Walter tried to get both his paintings and Margaret's into art galleries. When that failed, he rented wall space at the local jazz club. People would frequently ask about the children with large eyes and Walter began to tell them that he painted them. Margaret was angry when she found out about Walter's lies, but he somehow convinced her that this would be better for sales. 

Years passed. Margaret continued to paint the "big eye" paintings and Walter's fame continued to rise. Profits soared, allowing them to open their own gallery. 

One day, Margaret came upon a shipping box with Walter's name on it. Inside, she found dozens of Parisian street paintings with a different artist's signature. She suddenly realized that she had never seen Walter actually paint anything. After scraping the Keane signature off of one of his paintings, Margaret confronted Walter. 

Despite knowing about Walter's false life as a painter, Margaret continued with their "big eye" ruse. Walter had convinced her that no one would accept a woman as an artist and that business was better if everyone thought he created the paintings. It wasn't until the 1964 World's Fair in New York that Walter's lie began to unravel. An art critic, John Canaday, rejected the piece Margaret painted for the Hall of Education. Canaday called the piece "tasteless" and Walter just lost it. 

Eventually, Margaret tired of the lie and how much of her life she lost to Walter. She took Jane and moved to Hawaii. It was here that she was introduced to the Jehovah's Witnesses. With some support from the community, Margaret sued Walter for slander. Since the case was he-said-she-said, the judge decided that, in order to figure out who was telling the truth, both parties needed to paint a picture. Walter claimed he had a shoulder injury that left him unable to paint while Margaret completed a painting in 53 minutes. Margaret won the case. 

Big Eyes is a very difficult movie to watch in 2015. Since it takes place in the 1950s and 1960s, there is a lot of misogyny and male dominance in the story. Margaret stays with Walter, despite the fact that he is taking credit for all of her work, for ten years! Even when she knew what a con man he was, she still stayed. The viewer definitely needs to keep in mind that, at that time in history, it was very difficult for a woman to leave her husband and be independent. Thankfully, the movie does a fairly good job of setting that up early on.

This is also one of the few movies where I could forget who made it and who starred in it and just lose myself in the characters and story. Amy Adams did a wonderful job becoming Margaret and Christoph Waltz was scarily good at being Walter. On top of that, it didn't have all of the telltale signs of a Tim Burton movie. It is obvious that Burton loved the film's subject and took a lot of care to tell the story properly. If you get a chance to catch Big Eyes, I would definitely recommend checking it out. Margaret Keane's story is an inspiring one, even if it took her a long time to make it happen.