*** ½ out of ****
From now on Tim Burton should only be allowed to direct fact-based dramas. Why? Because he does them so well and his big effects films/comedies of late (Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, and Frankenweenie to name a few) have been forgettable. Frankly, I had pretty much written him off, but then Big Eyes comes along, his best movie since Ed Wood (1994).
Big Eyes is based on the true story of Margaret Keane (a pitch perfect Amy Adams) who had success in the 1950s with her paintings of children with huge, saucer-like eyes. The one big problem is that her oily huckster of a husband, Walter (Christoph Waltz), convinces her to let him take credit for the paintings, since, you know, a woman wouldn't be taken seriously in that medium.
Big Eyes is written by the go-to guys for biopics – Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. They penned Burton's Ed Wood, based on the eccentric and inept filmmaker of Plan 9 from Outer Space, The People vs Larry Flint about the publisher of Penthouse Magazine, and the bio of the possibly insane comedian Andy Kaufman, Man on the Moon.
Of course, for a two hour movie, situations are changed around for dramatic purposes. However, Alexander and Karaszewski are able to keep the essence of the story and the real life people their screenplay is based upon. Here, they capture Margaret's breaking heart.
I could have done without the voice-over narration by a tabloid writer played by Danny Huston. This narration doesn't pop up too often in the film, but because it is so infrequent that when it does happen it is actually distracting. That's just a minor quibble in a film that does approach perfection.
Waltz has the showy role of the larger-than-life manipulator, and he does it very well, but it is Adams that holds it all together with her character's quiet strength. The is definitely a movie about female empowerment, and it's a true story that is a fascinating one.