Told as its own sort of fairy tale (complete with storybook narration), Tim Burton's "Big Eyes" brings an unusual story of artistic deception to the screen. In the late 50's and early 60's, Walter Keane's (Christoph Waltz) kitschy paintings of sad, large-eyed waifs became wildly popular, bringing him fame and untold fortune when he had the brilliant idea of mass-producing the images. The only problem? He didn't create the paintings; his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams) was the true artist responsible for the works. Walter claimed credit for the paintings, convincing Margaret that they would sell more if people believed he was the artist since "people don't buy lady art."
Adams is typically great, bringing a heartbreaking fragility to her role as Margaret, but her subtle performance often feels as though it belongs in a completely different film from her co-star. Waltz can be a fantastic actor, but his cartoonish scenery-chewing is pitched at such a tone that it wouldn't feel out of place amongst the CGI creations that have marked Burton's most recent films. It's as though no one bothered to tell Waltz what type of film the director was making this time around. As written and performed, he's such a buffoon that it becomes difficult to imagine anyone would trust the words coming out of his mouth, having the unintended effect of forcing the audience to view Margaret as being dim-witted enough to trust her obviously sociopathic husband.
The disconnect constantly threatens to throw the film completely off-kilter, but even so, it's a fascinating story. Working with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski ("Ed Wood"), Burton delivers the best work he's done in some time; it's a welcome relief to see Burton breaking out of his recent glut of lackluster, effects-heavy films.