The true story of pop artist Margaret Keane, whose
husband took credit for her work for over ten years.
Big Eyes (2014)
Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszweski
Starring Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston,
Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp,
Jon Polito, Delaney Raye, Madeleine Arthur
I had never heard of Margaret Keane prior to watching this film. After the film, I was fascinated by her remarkable style and the struggle she went through to gain credit for her own work. One can't tell the story of Margaret Keane without also talking about her husband Walter Keane, who manipulated her into letting him take credit for her work and become an international celebrity. Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz play Margaret and Walter respectively, and they both do a fantastic job. Margaret is a belittled yet quietly dignified painter and Walter is a showy, arrogant bastard con-man. Tim Burton portrays this story in a respectful way, putting aside his normally bizarre style of filmmaking in favor of a subtlety he hasn't displayed since Ed Wood.
When we first meet Margaret, she has left her first husband and moved away with her young daughter. This was 1958, when a woman wasn't allowed to make major life decisions that went against the husband, for fear of becoming a societal pariah. But Margaret wanted a better life, so she pursued her dream of being a painter. That's when she met Walter, a fellow artist who was entranced with her work. She fell for him quickly and the two were married so she wouldn't lose custody of her daughter to her first husband. When Margaret's paintings become popular, Walter convinces her to let them say he painted them because, as he puts it, nobody pays attention to female art. Margaret spends ten years hating herself for lying to everyone, including her daughter, while Walter becomes a millionaire off her work. Thankfully, she does finally gain the courage to tell the truth, leading to a trial, and the best part of the movie.
Amy Adams really sells the relatability of Margaret Keane, who never wanted to be famous. She just wanted to be her own person, and to be told that her work mattered. Walter took advantage of that, but Margaret found her way back. This movie takes a look at mental and emotional abuse, which doesn't get as much attention as physical abuse but it takes just as heavy a toll. Never be with someone who manipulates and takes advantage of you, in any way. Margaret's determination to take back what was hers is nothing less than inspiring.