Tim Burton’s Big Eyes could be lumped in with the count-em-three other biographical movies opening on Christmas Day, being that it’s Burton’s first true-ish story since Ed Wood twenty years ago. But it’s also a reunion with Wood screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski, which (for some, at least) shifts the focus from the biography of painter Margaret Keane to the narrative of Burton’s career, which, per conventional wisdom, just hasn’t been the same since, well, take your pick: Sleepy Hollow in ’99, Mars Attacks! in ’96 (his critically disliked flop that at some point became part of his good old days) or yes, Ed Wood, the masterpiece some non-fans seem to love at least in part out of hate for every outright fantasy he’s made since.
Big Eyes is not Ed Wood—not as loopy, not as moving, not as perfect a movie about the making of its beautifully questionable art—and as such may provide further fodder for condescending thinkpieces about what happened to Burton (quick answer: since his supposed prime he’s made, let’s see, a family drama with fantastical elements, a dark musical, a nearly unclassifiable horror-soap comedy, and some family films whose worst crimes are the ease with which they fit into his wheelhouse). But it accompanies Wood and Edward Scissorhands as a portrait of Burton’s native California: sunny pop-art sprawl with undercurrents of dysfunction and menace.