What could Tim Burton have possibly seen in Big Eyes, the story of a monotonous, marginally talented, yet enormously successful “artist?” Something of himself, perhaps?
For years, even Burton’s staunchest detractors (I’m one of them) have conceded him two masterworks: Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, which owed much of its goofy appeal to Paul Reubens’s manic creation, and Ed Wood, hands down the director’s most mature, fully realized creation due in large part to the lead performances and a compassionately caustic screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.
Imagine the delight when news arrived that the duo — they tend to vacillate between Oscar bait (Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt) and risible kidpics (Problem Child 1–3, Agent Cody Banks) — would once again be around to try and help make Burton look good.
Lightning failed to strike twice. The finished product is another one of the director’s triumphs of production design over storytelling, as structurally spiritless as the ocular-enhanced, Children of the Damned urchins generally associated with the paintings Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) appropriated from his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams), and passed off as his own creation.
Johnny Depp portrayed Ed Wood as a blithe nimrod hoping to hitch his star to a more talented, albeit on-the-skids Bela Lugosi. Waltz, badly miscast, adopts a similar approach adding an exasperating tinge of Broadway Danny Rose cloying condescension to every comment, inquiry, request, command, and exclamation he speaks. Adams, who spends most of the time looking shell-shocked, fares slightly better as the subjugated, trounced-upon lady of the house. Krysten Ritter pops up briefly, no doubt cast for her resemblance to Burton’s ex, Lisa Marie.
Everything in the film — from the overlit endeavors to reproduce the look of ’50s Technicolor to a Beach Boys cover version — looks and feels artificial. Burton had a chance to make a powerful statement on the struggle for a woman to achieve artistic recognition and instead settled for another childlike fairy tale.