Big Eyes is based on the real-life story of Margaret Keane, but it’s not a biopic. The screenplay was written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who also wrote Ed Wood, to which this film has some parallels. Both films are about artists whose works were despised by critics: Wood was dubbed “the world’s worst moviemaker,” while the Keane paintings were fiercely criticized by New York Times art critic John Canaday (grimly played here by Terence Stamp).
Both films make a point of humanizing their characters, as opposed to merely documenting them. Both Alexander and Karaszewski’s other biographies, such as The People vs Larry Flynt, which depicted the pornographer as a freedom-of-speech hero, employ this method in order to offer comically insightful insights into the lives of their protagonists. Margaret is shown as an authentic artist whose soul is reflected in her husband’s persistent, tearful faces that she has to churn out at increasingly rapid speeds. We are not asked to accept the artworks themselves (the film is apolitical about their artistic value), simply to acknowledge that the artist was genuine and deserves to be recognized as such.
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