The reteaming of Tim Burton with “Ed Wood” writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karasziewski ought to be have been cause for celebration. But after the film’s first public screening, the champagne stayed corked, with praise forthcoming but distinctly muted. The story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), whose paintings of children with eyes like dinner plates became a kitschy sensation in the 1960s, and her husband, Walter (Christoph Waltz), who for years passed off his wife’s work as his own, finds Burton back in “Big Fish” mode after a decade of outsized, largely hollow entertainments. Some critics argue, in fact, that it’s too subdued, while others find Waltz’s performance as the domineering Walter to be too grandiose and stylized for the rest of the film. One thing all can agree on, so far, is that Adams is great, and in a year where the Best Actress field seems especially thin and lacking in consensus, that might be good enough.
“Big Eyes” opens December 25.
Reviews of “Big Eyes”
Justin Chang, Variety
Despite Amy Adams’ affecting performance as an artist and ’50s/’60s housewife complicit in her own captivity, this relatively straightforward dramatic outing for Tim Burton is too broadly conceived to penetrate the mystery at the heart of the Keanes’ unhappy marriage — the depiction of which is dominated by an outlandish, ogre-like turn from Christoph Waltz that increasingly seems to hold the movie hostage. Still, the tale’s colorfully entertaining veneer and the name talents involved should draw an appreciative number of arthouse patrons to the Weinstein Co. release, set to open Christmas Day.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
“Big Eyes” works best when fleshing out the ominous qualities lurking behind Walter’s facade. While Margaret’s friend (Krysten Ritter) hints at it early on (“he’s diddled every smock in the art circuit”), the layers of Walter’s con artistry go so deep that Waltz often hijacks the movie with his eerily psychopathic cheer. But once the full mania of his personality is unleashed in the later scenes, the actor throws subtlety to the wind, and so does the movie. A later scene involving Walter confronting a discerning art critic with a fork feels awfully silly; Adams’ fragile delivery, which gradually evolves into forceful determination, gives the movie a more credible source of tension even as it dissipates in the final chapter.
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
Adams’ first-rate performance illuminates both the reticent and creatively compulsive sides of Keane’s personality, although no one may ever know where it all came from and why she basically painted the same picture over and over again for years. Waltz’s exuberant side is given free reign as the actor makes Walter both winning and loathsome. This is certainly his best English-language performance in a non-Tarantino film. Ultimately, “Big Eyes” is not as profoundly strange or resonantly personal as “Ed Wood,” nor is there anything as magnificent here as Martin Landau’s turn as Bela Lugosi. But it’s good to see Burton playing to his strengths against after a stretch of uneven work.
Tim Grierson, Screen International
In recent years, Burton has retreated more and more into heavily production-designed movies like “Dark Shadows,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Sweeney Todd,” revelling in off-the-wall characters and surreal environments that have reduced his aesthetic to self-parody. With Big Eyes, he mostly puts the tics away, and as a result this is one of his most straightforward films. That’s not a criticism, however: The discipline of making a relatively standard biopic with a happy ending forces him to focus on storytelling in a way that he hasn’t with his other films this century
Inkoo Kang, the Wrap
Especially in a year so devoid of serious female-led dramas, it’s invigorating to see a feminist crowd-pleaser with the force of moral righteousness on its side. But “Big Eyes” is good, not great. What keeps it from excellence is its reluctance to explore the very questions it raises: What does it feel like to be hated by scholars and taste-makers but beloved by millions? Why are the children in the paintings so sad? (“Are they poor?” asks one patron of the arts.) How successful were the Modigliani-inspired self-portraits Margaret begins to paint at the height of the big-eyes craze that she signed with her own name?
Jack Giroux, Film School Rejects
The story grows progressively sadder and stranger. When Margaret finally does stand up for herself, Walter reacts in frightening and ridiculous ways. Most of her husband’s manipulation is played for laughs, but it never detracts from the drama of Margaret’s situation. Alexander and Karaszwewski’s script pulls off a real tonal challenge in that regard. Even when events take an exceptionally silly turn in the third act, the film manages to earn both the huge laughs and emotional catharsis.
Ryan Lattanzio, Thompson on Hollywood
This banal, awkwardly directed biopic of sorts was once thought to be an Oscar hopeful for Amy Adams, whose sublime talents are wasted by such malnourished material. The characters are paper-flat: Margaret lies helpless in the shadows of her monster of a husband as he apes the success that ought to be hers. He has done an evil thing, but the film seems indifferent to that evil.