Tim Burton, Amy Adams, and Christoph Waltz To Open ‘Big Eyes.’

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

Tim Burton has a new project lined up, and once again, he's exploring the lives of artists who look at the world in an unusual way. In this case, though curiously oversized eyeballs.

On Tuesday, it was announced that Burton will be directing "Big Eyes," a movie based on the true life story of Walter and Margaret Keane, husband and wife artists who became wealthy and famous in the 1960s with their paintings of children with large, sad eyes. Burton has already lined up his leads, with Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz signed to play the Keanes. The Weinstein Company will finance and distribute the picture.

"Big Eyes" was written for the screen by Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, who also scripted Burton's 1994 film "Ed Wood," a biopic based on the life and career of cross-dressing and idiosyncratic B-picture director Edward D. Wood, Jr. Karaszewski and Alexander seem to have a fondness for writing about offbeat true life figures, having also penned "The People vs. Larry Flynt" (about the founder and publisher of Hustler Magazine) and "Man On The Moon" (concerning boundary-smashing comic Andy Kaufman).

In 2012, Karaszewski and Alexander were on board to direct "Big Eyes" with Burton producing and Ryan Reynolds and Reese Witherspoon heading up the cast. However, financing fell through before the project went before the cameras, and now Burton has stepped in to direct. And with two-time Oscar winner Waltz and four-time nominee Adams in the cast, "Big Eyes" now has both star power and awards-season cache going for it.

Given Burton's fascination with kitschy period material and eccentric creative types, "Big Eyes" would seem to be an ideal vehicle for him. (The fact he collects Keane paintings doesn't hurt.) Walter Keane met Margaret Ulbrich in 1953 when she was doing charcoal sketches at a fair, and two years later they were married. Walter saw potential in Margaret's paintings of children with sad faces and eyes enlarged for effect, and while art critics considered them hackwork, Walter's promotional savvy made them widely popular during the late 1950s through the mid-'60s. However, Walter insisted on telling people that he had done the paintings, and Margaret, for the sake of the marriage, went along with the lie. After the couple divorced in 1965, Margaret began demanding that the truth be known about her work, eventually leading to a lawsuit. In court, Margaret painted one of her trademark waifs and demanded Walter do the same. He declined, and the court found in Margaret's favor.