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A Review of Big Eyes

A few days ago we wrote about the new movie, "The Imitation Game" which is both a good movie and a socially relevant one. Now we are going to write about another movie that those same words could apply to which is "Big Eyes" which does not involve an issue pertaining to immigration but it does pertain to spousal abuse, a subject that we care a lot about. This film tells the true story of Margaret Keane, an artist who in the early 1960's created a sensation with her very popular portraits of what Wikipedia termed "saucer-eyed waifs". The problem was that, at the time, Margaret Keane wasn't given credit for her work because her then-husband, Walter Keane claimed to have painted them himself. As depicted in the film, she consents to the fraud supposedly because, at the time, a woman's artwork wasn't generally treated as seriously as that of a man and because Walter Keane had a more outgoing personality than his wife had which made it easier for him to promote/hustle the artwork because, as the film points out, people like to meet the artist whose work they are buying.

Regardless of what society may have dictated at the time we think that those reasons were mere excuses and that the best avenue the couple could have taken would have been for Margaret Keane to take credit for her work and the charismatic Walter Keane do the lion's share of the socializing. Perhaps they wouldn't have been as successful but still successful enough.

Instead, the psychological weight of the lie eventually takes it toll on Margaret Keane and she leaves her husband and resettles in Hawaii. Years later she gets the courage to assert herself and go public in order to rightfully claim the artwork as her own. Predictably, this leads to a colorful courtroom battle that she ultimately wins.

(Don't worry, it doesn't hurt the viewing experience of this particular film to know how it turns out.)

What makes "Big Eyes" a compelling film and one worth discussing is that it isn't until the end of the movie that Mrs. Keane talks about why she really felt that she had to cooperate with her scheming husband; for most of the movie we have to draw our own conclusions but we sensed that it was because of a combination of low self-esteem on her part, the desire to please her husband, as well as genuine fear of him due to his threats and rages (at one point he attacks an art critic with a fork). Interestingly, Walter Keane never lays a violent hand on Margaret Keane but, for the most part, seizes control of her by way of his dominant personality and his eerie, seductive charm.

The screenwriters for this film are Mr. Scott Alexander and Mr. Larry Karaszewski who also penned "Ed Wood" and "The People vs. Larry Flynt" which were biographies with important messages. The director is Mr. Tim Burton who is best known for his fantasy films like "Edward Scissorhands", "A Nightmare before Christmas", "Big Fish", "Alice in Wonderland", and "Frankenweenie" as well as "Ed Wood." Mr. Burton was drawn to this project because he is a great fan of Ms. Margaret Keane's work and even commissioned her in the 1990's to paint a portrait of his then-girlfriend Lisa Marie.

What also makes this film work is the outstanding chemistry between Ms. Amy Adams (as Margaret Keane) and Mr. Christoph Walz (as Walter Keane) because we really could believe them as a dysfunctional couple. Moreover, we neither totally love nor hate them. As played by Ms. Adams, Margaret Keane was a troubled person even before she got into the relationship with Walter Keane. As played by Mr. Walz, Walter Keane ultimately emerges as a very pathetic person instead of an evil one. At the end of the film it is revealed that Ms. Margaret Keane is now 87 years old, has found an inner peace, and still loves to paint. We did a little more research and found out that after viewing "Big Eyes", her comment was "I was in shock. It was like seeing him again."

For us, this means that Mr. Burton and company did a wonderful job in recreating the reality and capturing the essence of Margaret Keane's ordeal.

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