The easiest way to start this review would be to ask me to criticize the career path of Tim Burton. Perhaps I could lament his recent Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham Carter-starring “reimaginings” of things nobody wanted to be reimagined, before discussing my nostalgia for his older films. I am not going to do this, because it’s been done to death, and because I actually do like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Sweeney Todd.” Still, my excitement on seeing the first trailer for “Big Eyes” was driven by the hope that it would be a return to Burton’s early days of making weird indie movies about weird characters making their way through life. It has a great cast, is about a strange-yet-true piece of American history and the trailer at least had a sense of fun to it. Unfortunately, my hope was a false one.
“Big Eyes” tells the story of Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams), an amateur painter who finds herself in San Francisco after leaving her first husband, barely making ends meet. Margaret is selling her paintings, all of kids with oversized and melancholy eyes, on the street when she meets the charming Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), another wannabe artist. Falling hard for his promises and sweet-talk, Margaret quickly marries Walter, and the two try to build a life together as artists. Unfortunately, it turns out that Walter is an untalented, lying jerk with a drinking problem who starts selling Margaret’s work as his own. When said paintings take off as a kitsch sensation, Margaret must confront her guilt over the constant lying and staying with an emotionally abusive husband.
I did my best to summarize the plot of this movie in the previous paragraph, but it might not make that much sense, because this movie barely has any plot to it. The script is totally uninterested in the real-life story it’s based on, delivering a narrative so bare that Lifetime would demand rewrites. There’s no clear passage of time, there’s no clear goal to the story and the only performance worth mentioning is Waltz, just because he is a really good actor and takes the terrible dialogue as far as he can. Adams sleepwalks through her role, and besides them, every other character is basically a cameo, which is unfair to the great character actors in the film, like Jon Polito.
Burton’s direction is barely noticeable. There are no attempts at any narrative depth or quirks, and any scene where Burton’s camera starts to get in people’s faces and begins to feel weird cuts almost immediately. Basically, anyone could’ve directed this movie and it would have been the same, but since nothing really happens, that’s inconsequential. The script is just so bad, and it’s so boring, and I was so disappointed, because I do not think that Tim Burton is done or washed up. But it’s like he didn’t even try with “Big Eyes.” And if that’s not a reason to avoid this movie I don’t know what is, and I’m tired of talking about it.