It’s been a long time since Tim Burton made a movie this good. In fact, most of his post-‘90s projects (after Mars Attacks!) have felt diffuse. Burton’s passion for oddball artists — from Edward Scissorhands to Ed Wood — was what made him eloquent and motivated his rich visual style. His Hollywood projects like Planet of the Apes and Dark Shadows just seemed like hackwork he was trying too hard to mold into crazy fun. On the flip side, Big Eyes seems modest. It not only returns Burton to his grand topic of the rewards and punishments doled out to creatives, it also finds him in a much more forgiving mood. The star of this film stands up for her voice, and eventually the world bends around her gifts.
The world in question is 1950s California and the star is Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), who created an unlikely fad with her kitschy paintings of children with enormous peepers. But it’s also the story of Keane’s husband, Walter (Christoph Waltz), who manipulated his wife while making her work popular by passing it off as his own. Burton’s self-maiming artist figure in this film is split into two characters.
The film is restrained and sometimes downright awkward, and the inclusion of Danny Huston as narrator suggests that the story may have gotten away from the director. Still, we are left with a surprisingly sweet tale from the authentic world of Burton—a creepy gift celebrated large.