Do you love paintings? Maybe there’s been a work of art that personally struck you, making you think, “Wow, this artist is just like me.” Or maybe you were inspired to make some art yourself after seeing someone else display a masterpiece. It’s a funny thing about art: it has its own way of uniting people together without saying a word.
So now, in Big Eyes, we have the unbelievable true story of artist Margaret Keane, a woman with a difficult past that created some of the most eye-popping works of art to be seen by the baby boomers. It’s an unbelievably humorous way she skyrocketed to fame, so naturally, the perfect director to translate her story to the big screen would be no other than Tim Burton, right? …right?
Yes, even I have a hard time believing that. Over his career, Burton has made some bizarre movies that quickly found a cult following, and many decisions he’s made in his career have been straight-up unpredictable, this one in particular.
The story alone doesn’t sound at all like something he could even pull off. It all starts in 1958 Northern California with Margaret Keane (at the time Margaret Ulbrich) fleeing from her husband with nothing but her daughter and paintings of big-eyed children. While searching desperately for work, she ends up in North Beach San Francisco, where she has no choice but to sell her paintings for $2.00 (that’s $16.68 when adjusted for inflation). There she falls in love with a struggling artist named Walter Keane who sells paintings of streets. Yeah, I know, it already sounds like a far cry from the gothic creatures that Burton has branded himself with. But it gets a little more exciting from here.
Margaret then marries this seemingly kind artist who promises her care and peace. All seems well until he strikes a deal with her: he publicizes himself as the artist of her paintings since people at the time were more likely to accept a male artist than a female one. Then over the course of a decade, her paintings are sold all over the world under her husband’s name, and she has to live with the lie that eats her pride and her passion.
Oh, who am I kidding? I have no idea why Tim Burton was an appropriate director for this.
It’s not that it’s an absolute failure, under another director Big Eyes would have become a stylish character study. Instead, the film drags with the insufferable performances of the two main leads. Christoph Waltz gradually acts more and more forcefully as the events go on, and Amy Adams will not leave much of any impression on you. Although I will give her credit for the way she handles her moments of heartbreak, but even then the credit goes more to Danny Elfman’s jazzy musical score than her performance.
On top of that, the numerous story issues keep getting in the way. The most griping for me is the way this cover-up is hid from Margaret Keane’s daughter. She felt the need to lie to her about the artist of her paintings, even though she grew up watching her mother paint all the time. Honestly, how do you just miss a plot hole that big?
Okay, enough with the harsh stuff. I still think this movie would have worked better if done under somebody who works more in this genre, such as John Lee Hancock or Tom Hooper. But Burton at least doesn’t hurt the project enough to diminish the real point of the picture: to prove how art is meant to elevate society, not pander it. It uses nice vivid colors to paint the portrait of the late 50’s/early 60’s, as true to the authority critics had over the public’s taste at the time, as well as the struggling authority women had over men.
For whoever has lived through the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, they would remember it as a rough time to be a woman in the workforce. But it didn’t stop Margaret Keane from doing what she could to share her passion with the world, even if it meant letting herself get taken advantage of. However, this is not a solution any woman should ever resort to, as the consequences later on in her story proves. But gladly, she still learned in the end not to be used for a man’s selfishness, and now today still freely paints under her own name, not her ex-husband’s.
The result gives a satisfactory push forward to anybody searching for their muse, providing an appropriate true story that resonates all too well with the struggles of our time.
Big Eyes ultimately proves how anybody, whatever their limitation, can still pursue their passions regardless of what society assumes. It applies as well to anybody with autism, as they tend to have far more obsessive skills than others without autism.
Six-Word Lessons on Growing Up Autistic, Lesson #19, They Have Their Own Exceptional Talents.
For me, I have abilities in retaining mental information far beyond what others would be capable of. If you threw a year at me between 1928 and 2016, I could in no time tell you what movie won the Oscar for Best Picture that year. There was even a time when I could name alphabetically all the students in one of my high school classes at the top of my head.
But my passions go beyond that; my love for photography is extremely personal to me, and the time I put into it makes me sensitive to anybody who tries to tell me I’m no good at them. Then when I was younger, I would draw literally all the time: at school, at church, while watching TV, I just wouldn’t quit. I even took the liberty of drawing a detailed set of over 200 of my own Pokémon, including their battle stats and everything. Although I don’t draw nearly as much now as I did then, my skill for it remains.
In Big Eyes, Margaret Keane treats her love for painting big-eyed children much the same way. She grew up mostly deaf, so she naturally picked up the belief that you can see a person’s soul through the eyes. So in painted form, children with eyes like pancakes are what best expresses her emotions. She treats her paintings like her children, because in an almost literal sense, they are. Most of her paintings are paintings of her daughter, the one thing she knows more than anything else. Then when her husband sells the paintings under his name, she explains to him the importance of attaching a personal connection to the art. Therefore, he rehearses a story about how he witnessed children during World War II, urging him the need to paint their sad faces as an act of exposure to the world.
This film overall strives to prove how personal art becomes to the artist, and how personal somebody’s passion becomes. Everybody has a passion that they just cannot hide from the world, and everybody has a personal history of turmoil that ignites said passion.
An individual with autism has passions too, passions that he could never imagine sustainably existing without. What we most could learn from the strengths of somebody on the spectrum is that it proves how much value they provide to the world.
Six-Word Lessons for Autism Friendly Workplaces, Lesson #67: Strong Interests Make Them Work Hard.
That is what I’m doing right now with my movie reviews: loved ones have told me over the years about my skill in observing film to a meticulous degree, which proves itself in the format I set to lay out a quality grade for each movie I review. And what is the result of me following what I love to do? Well, your reading of this right now and hopefully feeling inspired by me, right? Everyone has a strength and a purpose that is meant to strengthen the morality of society, and it all starts with whatever you love to do the most.
- If you have a child with a developmental disorder such as autism or Down syndrome, think about what he or she can do that you’ve never seen anyone else do. Then work with your child to use those specific talents out in the world.
- If you are a savant struggling to find a passion, ask yourself: What is the one thing you can’t live without? If you ever find yourself procrastinating on something, what is it that causes you to procrastinate? There is your passion. Now, don’t feel ashamed of it no matter what it is.
- This goes to anyone autistic or not: take that passion and think to yourself, “How can I use this to help others?” Margaret Keane was able to use her love of painting children with big eyes to speak out to a close-minded public. What similar problem in the world can you affix your passion to?
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see reviewed, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
"Big Eyes Movie." Big Eyes. Web. <http://bigeyesfilm.com/>.
Porter, James. "Big Eyes" Movie Review. Digital image. MoviePilot. 28 Dec. 2014. Web. <http://moviepilot.com/reviews/2014/12/28/big-eyes-movie-review-2546916?lt_source=external,manual>.