I loved the cast, the director, and the triumphant story. Generally speaking, I tend to love bio-pics, and I wanted to love this film. But collectively Big Eyes left me with unanswered questions.
The opening scene shows Amy Adams as Margaret Keane, packing frantically to flee an unhappy marriage. We follow her and her daughter to her new home, new job, and painting big-eyed waifs that were not taken seriously as art.
Even though her paintings were labeled as kitschy as The Velvet Elvis, she meets a fellow artist who lavishes nothing but praise on her work. And she appeared to see the red flag waving strongly over his con-artist head, but Walter was such a smooth-talker, she married him.
The film went on to suggest that Walter pioneered the concept of renting wall space to set up a gallery inside a night club, to sell both of their works, then discovered how bad press drew public attention. This reminded me a little of Forrest Gump’s antics triggering iconic slogans, and made me suspect the employment of creative license over actual events.
Margaret fell into the trap of going along with her husband claiming to be the real artist to keep the income flowing and peace in the house. I found it hard to believe that she managed to hide her truth from her own daughter who had been her only subject for years. She’s quickly dismissed when she suggests that the paintings looked like her mothers.
Walter seemingly pioneered poster and postcard prints in an age before the copy machine. Like any con artist, he easily manipulated Margaret, even after she discovered that he’d lied to her about his personal history early in their relationship. And even though it wasn’t shown in the film, it did not escape me that in the late fifties, the home and finances were governed by the man of house. Most women didn’t have access to the checkbook, much less their own money, even if they did work.
SPOILERS from here on. If you haven’t seen the film, you might want to stop reading.
Margaret finally came to her senses and took Walter to court to prove that she was the true artist. I truly hope the case was resolved as portrayed. I found it difficult to believe that the question of money never became a bone of contention.
I wanted to know how Margaret left Walter for a fresh start with no money, managing to live in a lovely home in Hawaii for a year before contacting him about legal separation. I wanted to know how he ended up dying penniless when he had control of her empire for years. I wanted to know how her career fared after the dust from the trial settled. All told, this film seemed a little too “on the nose” for Tim Burton whose comfort zone is creating his world. Or perhaps his vision was far grander than the truth.