‘I make things up for a living… I’m a reporter.’ Danny Huston’s introductory voice-over had me hooked from the first minute of the (to me) under-achieving Tim Burton’s new movie.
Appearing to be blinded by his unique gifts as a filmmaker, Burton has made a habit of flattering to deceive, but on this occasion he grants the story primary status over flash quirkiness. And what an incredible story it is.
After fleeing with her young daughter from an abusive husband, Margaret (Amy Adams) finds work decorating babies’ cots in 1960s San Francisco. While trying to sell her paintings at a weekend street stall, she meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a smooth-talking but struggling fellow artist.
Margaret’s pictures are of children with huge round eyes and after one is purchased under the assumption that it was done by Walter the pose is maintained, although not entirely with Margaret’s blessing.
The couple marry and the ‘big-eyes’ paintings become a 1960s national craze, especially when reproduced as posters.
This is a fascinating study of a woman in pre-feminist California falling victim to the overbearing ego and self-delusion of an unscrupulous wannabe.
Adams finds a perfect balance as the mousy, uncertain wife who is reluctant to derail the wild success of the Keane brand, but also miffed at not receiving the recognition she has rightly earned. As hinted at by columnist Dick Nolan (Huston), their world is a made-up one of celebrity brown-nosing and exploitation.
But the movie is also a non-judgmental study of what an artist is all about, for at the centre of the maelstrom that develops, Margaret remains a serious painter who never loses touch with her personal inspiration, and who never falls out of love with her own pictures.
Waltz tends to overdo the megalomania of Keane when the fraudster finds himself challenged, but Huston, Jason Schwartzman as a chic gallery owner, and evergreen Terence Stamp as the affronted NY Times critic all cast a light on the intrigue, pretence and brazen opportunism of the chimeric art scene.
~ John Campbell