Big Eyes – Christian Movie Review
Big Eyes (#MovieBigEyes) tells the true story of Margaret Keane, and, as IMDB describes it, this film is “a drama about the awakening of the painter Margaret Keane, her phenomenal success in the 1950s, and the subsequent legal difficulties she had with her husband, who claimed credit for her works in the 1960s.”
It’s one of the most jaw-dropping true stories I’ve seen put to film, frankly.
Big Eyes is doing well on RottenTomatoes.com (72% at the time of this writing), and, as a fan of Tim Burton, I’d definitely agree with the critics: it’s a superbly crafted story and film, and it is a different side of Tim Burton that’s interesting to see (much the same way his masterpiece Big Fish was interesting).
I’ll explain why in a moment, but first:
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality: A brief kiss shared between the two main characters. Many other scenes involve a married man flirting with groups of women.
Violence/Gore: A bar fight with punches thrown. A man throws lighted matches onto the lap of a teenage girl.
Language: Standard PG-13 language throughout: God–mn, s-words, b-words, one f-word. The middle finger is given.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Lots of alcohol use (foraying into alcoholism-like problems for one character) and pre-Surgeon General warning smoking by many characters.
Frightening/Intense Content: A family is threatened to be burned by a drunk man, including a teen girl.
(Review continues below)
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“In true Tim Burton fashion, the movie has glimpses of creepiness here and there, but this is pretty low-key for him, and he seems to largely stay quiet, as if he were sitting in the director chair just enjoying this story coming to life too. “
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
Amy Adams lies low and timid for much of the film, but this allows her to tell the story using her face and actions more than any other movie she’s made. Both of them moved with such ease in and out of these true-to-life situations, that I quite expect Amy Adams to start selling paintings soon.
One scene describes Walter Keane as “Jekyll and Hyde,” and he truly does skirt both sides in his performance with unnerving ease, crossing between likeable and menacing rapidly. He will have you smiling for some scenes, and in the next minute you want to throw your popcorn and yell.
Jason Schwartzman, Krysten Ritter (daughter of the late John Ritter), and Terence Stamp bring a much-needed outside look at the 1960s San Francisco art world in their own ways, but each actor is (unfortunately) limited to only a few lines in their scenes.
Tim Burton’s style suits this film, though he plays it straighter than most of his films; though some of the early scenes in this film — like the panoramic shots of the pristine 1950s track houses with perfectly manicured lawns and Chevy Belairs parked in every drive-way — reminded me of the suburbia he created in Edward Scissorhands. The shots of the California hills as Margaret drove her daughter to San Francisco made my jaw drop. It reminded me how even more beautiful California was in its less developed decades. In general, Burton recreates California in the 1950s and ’60s with lush clarity, and its constant beauty contrasts so sharply with the tense, troubling world of the Keanes that it’s unnerving.
If you are unfamiliar with the true story of Margaret Keane, you might be surprised to find that Jehovah’s Witnesses play a pivotal role in the film. A verse from 2 Timothy is read, and Margaret Keane reads a few sentences from a JW tract. At a time when she was on her own and left jaded and scarred emotionally, JW missionaries coming door-to-door had the answers for her. They became her community. They are seen supporting her through the rest of her film after that point. In addition, she talks about being raised Methodist and goes to confession at a Catholic Church.
Hints of feminism and submission to the head of the household become underlying themes of the movie, but they are not addressed outright to the point where a certain worldview is pushed or celebrated.
I will say this: the film seems to subtly criticize the Biblical model of the family unit in some scenes, and it doesn’t really give a fair hearing for the Christian model of a strong but selfless male leader in a family, and why that role is valuable (especially when it functions in a healthy marriage that has a balanced partnership). But honestly, I think you could be on either side of the fence on those issues and find something to support your cause in this movie. The debate just isn’t really fleshed out; it skirts around it.
Certainly, the film as a period piece has something to do with it. The 1950s and 1960s were times of big societal change, and the movie mentions that she left her husband at a time “before it was fashionable for women to do so.” She deals with trying to get a job as a single mother (and the challenges a single mother would face in that era), and we see her make a big life decision quite flippantly because she can’t quite make it by herself.
But overall, I’d say the movie is not a puff piece for feminism, and in many ways the character of Margaret Keane is a bit of an anti-feminist — quiet and reserved, but she finds herself in situations where she is in danger and just does what she needs to do, whether or not it’s socially correct.
The acting will not disappoint. The true story is stranger than fiction and has not been told in too many venues before, so the story arc will be a big surprise for some: it will have moviegoers searching online to fill in the rest of the story and see if everything on-screen really happened that way. The mind-blowing thing is that everything in the movie really did happen. Life truly is stranger than fiction sometimes.
And in true Tim Burton fashion, the movie has glimpses of creepiness here and there, but this is pretty low-key for him, and he seems to largely stay quiet, as if he was sitting in the director chair just enjoying this story coming to life too.
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