Kitsch, a term known in the art industry that describes all art design that is seen as poor taste from excessive crudeness or sentimentality, despite being admired ironically. That is what best describes the paintings of big eyed waifs by Margaret Keane as depicted in the biographical film, Big Eyes, about Margaret's husband, Walter Keane, who took all the credit for her paintings for the public to know. Directed by Tim Burton, written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, and starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz as the integral couple, this has to be one of the most underrated films in recent years, and a rather intelligent social commentary about commercialism tackling against sexism in the media and psychological abuse.
The first thing to take notice of Big Eyes is how it manages to tackle behind the scenes trauma of all the fame garnished towards the wrong person. The film briefly but understandably gives Margaret a clear explanation as to why she exaggerates the eyes in all her children and why her paintings consist of children in general, due to her daughter Jane being the closest person to her and once having temporary impaired hearing causing her to use her eyes to visualize the world. When she paints her waifs, she is not simply designing pupils for the sake of shock value, more so to express herself from her eyes as gateways to the soul.
It's made evident that Walter Keane admires art and originally wanted to showcase his work of landscapes, yet him taking credit for his wife's waifs creates himself as one of the biggest plagiarists in the art media. At first, Walter states to some civilians that he painted the waifs for sale pitches, but as the paintings become more beloved, he soon believes his own lies and rolls with them. Funny how Margaret painted the waifs with average art equipment such as pencils, brushes and acrylic, yet never once is Walter ever seen painting, despite claiming to have studied in Paris. What keeps Margaret from saying who truly painted the waifs is her shyness, her controlling husband, and the sexist belief that art done by women isn't taken with sincerity.
Adding on to the leads, the acting is phenomenal with Amy Adams portraying Margaret as subtly strong and optimistic despite feeling knotted by her husband making her weak to succeed. It's their marriage that shows how personal Margaret's work is to her and how devastated she is in Walter's undeserved fame and wanting to reveal the real culprit. Christoph Waltz depicts Walter almost like Jekyll and Hyde, by starting off as a charming and out spoken conman before growing into a deranged and excessive psycho. The popularity has him use Margaret as a painting machine without public consumption while using his time in Europe as the inspiration for the sad waifs, thus contrasting between the flawed success and hidden truth.
Other minor characters like Dick Nolan, Ruben, Enrico Banducci and John Canaday either come off as mere obstacles or driving forces for the leads in the commercial fame, critical scorning, and art-house crowd. It's interesting how Walter at one point lashes at Canaday for his negative remarks towards his alleged work in a way of failing to take criticism, when Canaday isn't quite wrong and actually states how art should "elevate—not pander". However, the most noteworthy supporting persona is none other than Margaret's daughter, Jane, as the inspiration for the big-eyed paintings. Because of this, Margaret tries to keep her from finding out who really paints the waifs, down to asking a priest for advice after lying to her only child.
The screenplay is not only insightful but also quite funny at times as it explores the art scene of the 50s and 60s while seeing typical reactions from the art house snobs, professional critics, and especially the general public alike. One of the most notable efforts in the film is the pretty yet fitting cinematography that emphasizes Margaret's sudden clashing of her imagination against reality. A notable instance of this kind of style is when Margaret enters a boorish supermarket display of her art, and then she visualizes everyone around her with the limpid, haunting eyes of her waifs unbeknownst to the public. It's the way Margaret's nightmares capture the darker side of the real world that makes her trapped soul consume her sheltered life.
Lastly, the trial scene is near exact to the real-life Keane trail that took place in the mid 60s to really showcase Walter's absurd lies and desperation for claiming himself as the true artist. This makes Margaret all the more sympathetic and respectful, down to where she managed to befriend Jehovah's witnesses and even gave them her secret. It was after so many years of hiding in the shadows that Margaret could finally spill the beans in a new state (Hawaii) about who those paintings rightfully belonged to, no matter how kitschy. It soon becomes nearly evident that almost if not everyone is on Margaret's side due to her earnest delivery and free will to say the truth about Walter regarding both his plagiarism and notable abusive nature.
Usually known for mixing surreal Gothic material and quirky whimsy, Tim Burton accomplishes in crafting a thought provoking, sharp witted, and mildly powerful biopic never afraid of approaching the most outrageous copyright battle in art history. Burton portrayed Margaret Keane as a sheltered albeit hopeful artist wishing the world to see the real creator, not too different from that of Ed Wood. Like that film, she may have been stooped low by those around her, but she always remained positive by making what she loved. Those paintings seemed quite curious but not too distant from their time period, and they manage to still feel relevant today by appealing to anyone fascinated by surreal perspectives of the human mind, like Burton and Keane.