Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, January 05, 2015

Tim Burton and Amy Adams make Big Eyes a true eye-opener

Thanks to a holiday surprise gift, I was able to start this new year by watching a new movie in theaters this first weekend of 2015. It was hard to choose just one but I think that my choice of director Tim Burton's Big Eyes turned out to be a good one.

The film is based on a true story and starts Amy Adams as Margaret, a woman who literally fled her bad marriage with her daughter in 1958 and began to start their lives over in California's North Beach section. Her desire to share her artistic abilities with the world leads to meeting Walter Keane(Christoph Waltz), a charismatic charmer whose claims of studying art in Paris are dubious at best.

Not before long, Walter sweeps Margaret off her feet into a new marriage and they both plan to combine their efforts to achieve success in the art world. However, Walter soon discovers that his true talent lies in smooth talk,which makes it easier for him to present his new wife's haunting portraits of large eyed waifs as his own work:

Margaret is not happy to go along with this, especially since this deception extends as far as lying to her own daughter(who was the subject of several paintings).

 However, as the money rolls in, due to Keane mass marketing the paintings as posters and prints, it becomes harder and harder for her to speak the truth. Plus, Walter uses his forceful personality to completely dominate Margaret, insisting that she crank out nonstop "big eyes" pictures not only for a profit but to feed his growing ego and desperate need to be accepted as a "real artist".

One of the interesting sidelines of this story is how the art world back then was quick to sneer at the commercial success of the Keane paintings, which may not be Old Masters material but clearly touched a chord with folks who perhaps just appreciated the simple sincerity of the pieces. Tim Burton was obviously drawn to that aspect, as the bitter grumblings of galley owners and art critics can be heard at certain points of the film:

 This is actually a rather laid back film for Tim Burton as the story is presented in mostly realistic terms(apart from a couple of scenes where Margaret sees her signature eyes on others during moments of stress). He presents this remarkable true tale very well and in a manner that doesn't drift into typical melodramatic fare.

Part of the reason for that is the excellent performance of Amy Adams, who uses subtlety in a masterful way. While Waltz has the showier part(which he plays perfectly and with nuance, believe it or not), Adams has the difficult task of displaying her character's life of quiet despair, enhanced by the social morays of the period that still held that a man was always in charge of the family.

 One scene where Margaret seeks the advice of a priest about lying to her daughter, with Walter's insistence, is particularly touching, as her plea for emotional support is firmly but politely trampled down.

Even when she does manage to break free of Walter, his demands for more of her work are so draining that it is almost a miracle that Margaret finds the strength to stake her claim to her lost children of art.

Her story is very much like a modern version of the French writer Colette, whose husband literally locked her in a room to write and took much of the credit and cash for her artistic labors. While you might want to argue the difference in quality of Colette's writings vs. Margaret's paintings, both women had much in common here and Amy Adams showcases that struggle brilliantly with her own remarkable gifts as an actress in a world that's still only a little bit better for women than it once was:

Big Eyes is currently up for several Golden Globe awards, including noms for Adams and Waltz, yet the best chance it may have at Oscar time is for the title song off the soundtrack by Lana Del Rey(she's becoming the Queen of Movie Soundtracks, seriously).

The tune is suitably haunting and I do hope it does become an Oscar contender. However, I also hope that Amy Adams' performance is not overlooked as well in the oncoming frenzy of film award season.  Big Eyes may seem to be of small note but this story of a meek and mild artist raising her voice to declare her power is not played in a minor key, I assure you:

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