We first meet Margaret (Amy Adams) back in the 1950’s, when Middle
American housewives were expected to wear house dresses, stay home with
their children, and if they had a talent for painting, say---well, that was
an acceptable diversion, perhaps, but only for personal enjoyment, and only
if it didn’t interfere with wifely duties and responsibilities.
But Margaret wasn’t like everybody else.
found that life with her husband was so oppressive that she just had to take
her daughter and get out.
, where perhaps people thought a little differently, and allowed others to
It wasn’t easy, selling
personal portrait caricatures in the park for a buck apiece.
She made good likenesses of people, except that her style was to draw
bigger-then-lifelike eyes, so that people looked more innocent, vulnerable,
It was out on one
of these artist sidewalk sales that she meets Walter Keane (Christoph
Waltz), a painter of impressionistic
scenes, who dazzles her with his bonhomie.
don’t learn much about her divorce settlement, only about the threat to
declare her “an unfit mother” as someone who could not provide a steady
home environment for her daughter, so in Walter she finds someone almost
instantly ready to provide the kind of apparent stability that the “Father
Knows Best” society expected.
brushed aside her own nagging doubts that she didn’t really know much
He seemed delighted with
her, and with her daughter, and everything else could be worked out, right?
Walter, it turned out, did have some very good qualities.
He was a tireless promoter of her work.
He found her a venue in a restaurant/bar, where at first he
“rented” the walls, and then, when a dispute with the owner happened to
produce a fistfight and make the papers, he discovered the old
maxim that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
People were flocking to see the paintings.
Oh, there was this little wrinkle that somehow in the confusion
people assumed he was the artist, and he just let them think that, while
Margaret simply stayed at home and cranked out her “big eyes” paintings,
which were becoming so popular that Walter realized people were stealing the
advertising posters, so he hit upon the idea to sell the printed posters.
That, in turn, brought about a kind of image franchising that
included everything from lunch boxes to stationery, and economically, they
were a resounding success.
But there was trouble in
Margaret wasn’t entirely happy
with Walter getting all the credit for her work, but figured that’s what
the society expected, and besides, he was a brilliant promoter, and a genius
marketer, and a natural schmoozer, which freed her up to do what she loved
the painting itself.
Of course maintaining the subterfuge was hard work, particularly
trying to keep it from her daughter, whom she hated lying to, and his
daughter, as well, whom she didn’t even know about, but somehow just
appeared one day.
As usual, Walter
had an explanation that sounded reasonable.
like he had an explanation for why he didn’t bother with his own painting
any more, or with his previous real estate career----it was a full-time job
just running the “Big Eyes” enterprise.
But Walter become drunk on his own false success, and his arrogant bullying
made Margaret feel that she was becoming desperately lonely, and had somehow
lost sight of herself.
that he actually stole those
scenes, and represented someone else’s work as his own, was the last
She moved out with her
Except Walter’s not
giving up the Goose that laid the Golden Egg so easily.
He sues, claiming he’s the true artist and deserves the rights to
all the commercial sales, and their residuals.
And that creates a predictable media circus.
The story sounds unlikely, until we actually see pictures of the “real”
Margaret and Walter during the credits, and though neither is exactly the
paragon of virtue here, still, the story of their long-standing deception of
all of us carries a certain curious interest. The fact that it took a
professional critic to point out the kitsch, and a Christian evangelist to
instill the idea of truth-telling, just adds more irony to this strange
unvarnished tale of cloying
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish Associate, Woodhaven Presbyterian Church,