Running Length: 106 minutes
Cast: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Danny Houston, Terence Stamp
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel
Distributed by: The Weinstein Company
Vapid, lifeless and very mediocre.
Big Eyes is quite possibly the weirdest movie that Tim Burton has ever made. Not weird in the sense of kooky or off-the-wall bizarre, but weird in the sense of being so straight and ordinary that it literally could have been directed by any bog-standard director working today. In the same fashion that the work of J.J. Abrams is lazily reduced to knee-jerk jokes about lens flare, any reference to Burton is automatically followed with quips about Johnny Depp overacting in funny wigs and casting Helena Bonham Carter in everything. Obviously this has stuck in Burton’s craw, and the monumentally-average Big Eyes could be read as a massive “you want straight? I’ll show you straight,” two-fingered salute to his critics. There is no evidence of the auteur’s singular vision here whatsoever. It’s been completely de-Burtoned and as a result, it’s vapid, lifeless and very mediocre.
Big Eyes is the first movie not based on pre-existing source material that Burton has directed since Ed Wood in 1994. Set in the late 1950s, it is the story of Margaret (Amy Adams) and Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz). Margaret and Walter were both artists – she of portraiture and he of bullshit. Without any natural talent of his own, Walter uses his aptitude for self-promotion to pass himself off as the artist behind Margaret’s stylised “big eyes” paintings. Somewhat implausibly, she consents to this arrangement without much protest, before eventually deciding that she’s not cool with this at all actually. But not before her work has been mass-produced and her husband becomes a cultural phenomenon.
Of course, Walter soon begins to buy his own brand of bullshit and Margaret’s identity is slowly obscured by her husband’s shadow.
You could argue that Burton is a better art director than film director. At some point around 2001’s ludicrous Planet of the Apes remake, he seemed to lose his mojo and with it, the passion and emotion of his earlier work. In the years since, Burton has slowly turned into his own tribute act, churning out fluff like Alice in Wonderland or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Those films may look beautiful, but are pastiches of his past best. It’s a surface beauty that hides an emotional vacuum in place of the passion conspicuous in Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood. But Big Eyes doesn’t even have that Burton aesthetic going for it. It is an unspectacular story with an average look.
This personality bypass extends to Danny Elfman’s forgettable, generic musical score, and the by-the-numbers script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski makes it impossible to reconcile these as the same screenwriters who collaborated with Burton on the wonderfully eccentric Ed Wood. Christoph Waltz can usually be relied upon to walk into a supporting role and completely steal the thunder of all around him. However, he seems to have missed the memo about Big Eyes being a crushingly normal movie. His unrestrained, exaggerated performance is distractingly out of place, and forces Amy Adams to resort to melodrama. Big Eyes is not appalling, but it is dreadfully disappointing.