The new film, "Big Eyes," is a true story based on a big lie. For nearly 30 years, Walter Keane took credit for painting those doe-eyed, dour waifs that became the rage in the 1960s. In actuality, his wife, Margaret Keane, was the real artist who endured the charade in an era of female submissiveness.
The always enigmatic director Tim Burton goes uncharacteristically conventional in this exceptional film. His casting of Amy Adams (as Margaret) and Christoph Waltz (as Walter) goes beyond a stroke of genius. The big-eyed, soulful actress is the perfect choice to play wife to the smarmy-smiling, con-artist husband.
When Margaret, a wannabe artist, met Walter in 1954 she was a recent divorcee with a young daughter. He swept her off her feet soon after her arrival in San Francisco, claiming to be a fellow painter. They married and Walter seized an opportunity to display his "work" alongside Margaret's at a hip nightclub (The Hungry I). When patrons are drawn to her saucer-black eyed child portraits, Walter convinces her that, "people don't buy lady art." Margaret grudgingly allows him to take credit for the paintings when the money starts rolling in. The dye is cast.
After having seen "Big Eyes," the real Margaret Keane (age 87) commented that "Amy portrayed just how I felt." Adams gives an incredible performance of a woman whose sanity is slipping away as she loses her identity. But when her character finds the courage to expose the truth, the transformation she displays evokes applause.
And there's no one better than Christoph Waltz, who's capable of giving sleazy characters an unparalleled dose of panache, at stealing every scene that he inhabits. He possesses an appealing arrogance which translates perfectly into the psyche of Walter Keane. His signature smirk is infectious, evoking subdued giggling throughout this wonderful movie.
Credit has to be given to the charmingly conniving Walter. He managed to revolutionize the commercialization of pop art via mass marketing. Suddenly you didn't have to be Joan Crawford, Natalie Wood or Jerry Lewis (all of whom sat for portraits) to have a Keane on your living room wall. But at what price?