This film, directed by Tim Burton, is based on actual events around the very popular “big eye” paintings of sad children/waifs of the late 1950’s and 1960’s.
The film opens in 1958 with Margaret (Amy Adams) leaving her first husband with young daughter Jane (the younger Jane is played by Delaney Raye and the older Jane by Madeline Arthur). She heads to San Francisco where she meets with friend DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter) and gets a job painting artwork on baby cribs.
At an outdoor art show where she is selling her distinctive “big eye” paintings she meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz). Keane is charismatic, appears to be a successful painter of scenes from Paris, and is very friendly with the ladies. Walter and Margaret’s relationship moves quickly. When Margaret’s ex-husband files a motion for sole custody of Jane claiming Margaret isn’t a fit mother, Walter says that they should get married, which is what they do. But Walter is not what he appears to be. There is much about Walter that Margaret doesn’t know.
After Walter is denied a spot for his paintings (street scenes in Paris) and Margaret’s waif paintings by the owner (Jason Schwartzman) of a local art gallery, Walter talks a jazz music club owner into letting him rent space on the club walls to display their artwork. When people show interest in Margaret’s work, Walter takes credit for the paintings. When she finds out about it she isn’t happy, but she eventually goes along with the deception for ten years. Walter becomes increasingly popular while Margaret is left to produce her paintings in her dark home studio, lying to friends and even her daughter Jane about who the actual artist of the popular paintings is.
In some ways Margaret is ahead of her times as a woman in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, leaving her husband and going on her own. In other ways, she unbelievably gives into her second husband Walter when he says that paintings by a woman wouldn’t sell.
Danny Huston stars as local newspaper writer Dick Nolan, who helps publicize Walter and the “big eyes” paintings. Terrance Stamp stars as vicious New York Times art critic who criticizes the “big eyes” mural submitted for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.
The film includes some adult language, and several abuses of both God’s and Jesus’s names.
I found this to be a very interesting story, but the usual creative Burton doesn’t do much with it as a film. It felt like, shall I say, a “paint by numbers” telling of the story (it could easily have been a Lifetime movie).