Big Eyes (2014)

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It seemed like a match made in heaven. Outwardly charming and charismatic realtor Walter (Christoph Waltz) wedded the wide-eyed artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams,) making it possible for her to keep the sexist mid-20th century authorities from deeming her an unfit mother based on her unmarried status and taking her daughter away.

But Walter proved to be an untrustworthy , possessive pig, constantly berating and manipulating the terrified Margaret and taking credit for her work, a series of  slightly unnerving paintings of waifish children with enormous doe eyes. Caught between fear of her husband’s socioeconomic influence and her own happiness, Margaret stayed trapped for years in a loveless  marriage to a egomaniac monster of a husband.

The story of artist Margaret Keane and her fraught relationship with her conniving husband, Walter, seems like it could make a fascinating film, but what can one do with a script as shoddy as this? In “Big Eyes,” Amy Adams is as lovable as ever as the innocent Margaret, initially lulling the viewer into believing that the movie will be much, much better than it actually is.

Christoph Waltz, however, gives an unexpectedly atrocious turn as Walter, rendering all Amy Adams’ efforts to make a good movie out of a mediocre one obsolete. For people such as myself, who adored Waltz in “Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained,” his performance is a devastating betrayal.

We know he can do better, but with his fiendishly cartoonish portrayal of Adams’ abusive husband, we half expect him to spirit a stack of Acme products out of thin air and futilely attempt to blow Margaret and her frightened daughter to Kingdom come. His performance is what transforms a average movie into something much less.

“Big Eyes” is an improvement over “Alice in Wonderland,” filmmaker Tim Burton’s earlier film of recent years? Ha! “Alice in Wonderland” was solid, gaudy entertainment, harmless to take the kids to and relax your brain with. “Big Eyes” tries to take on serious subject matter, and fails miserably.

I was initially really excited to see it because it sounded a lot different from Burton’s other work, but how disappointed I was when it turned out to be a shallow biopic with one-dimensional characterizations and… yes, a mortifying performance by an actor I used to like and respect.

Meanwhile, a supporting characterization by Danny Huston as an interested reporter seems perfunctory and uninteresting, placed haphazardly in the film simply so he can supply some backstory in the form of a voiceover. As “Big Eyes” veers into shameless, albeit star-studded ridiculousness, all I can think of is what a missed opportunity this was. Hopefully Burton will take his next project more seriously and not deteriorate into kitsch like he did in this sloppy and misfortunate misfire.

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