Thursday, January 22, 2009

436 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button review

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” has a plot device, a top-notch cast and crew, and a special effects budget lavish enough to power a small country for a year. What it lacks is a reason to exist, a justification for all of that talent and resources, a moral to justify the audience’s three-hour expenditure of time.

Its titular protagonist ages in reverse. From this we’re supposed to take away some insightful lesson about life and the way age affects our experiences as humans. But what use does director David Fincher make of this material other than to apply it to a dull hero, a person whose existence is ultimately unremarkable other than that it began with him as an elderly man and ended with his infancy? None, that’s what.

Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) grows up in a New Orleans old folk’s home, where he develops no personality of note and has no experiences that many others of his time period couldn’t claim. Sure, he has a few lovers and fights in World War II, but how many people lived that could say the same thing? Tens of millions, I would assume. I was surprised by how few noteworthy experiences Benjamin had; his aging issue really presents no challenges that prevent him from living as anyone else would.

Benjamin falls in love with Daisy (Cate Blanchett), the grandchild of one of his roommates. His story is told by her in flashback, set against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina for no discernable reason other than that it lends the film some false topicality. Their romance can’t bloom until their ages intersect. When Benjamin tells her that he must leave because he fears her having to raise him as she would a child, I didn’t believe it; why bolt when he has 20 years of adulthood left? This ensures that we don’t really get Benjamin’s life story, just the first 45 years of it as well as the last two or three.

What we’re presented with is a film without a pertinent moral or lesson to take away. A description of the material makes it sound potentially insightful, but the filmmakers make the mistake of assuming that by putting the story up there, it will simply resonate with the audience.

Really, what are we left with by Benjamin’s story? Although his body ages in reverse, his mind goes forward. He lives and dies as would any of us, except that his body goes in another direction. Were it not for his strange condition, which no one in the film seems to think is all that weird, Benjamin’s life would not be curious at all, though I suppose it could not get much more boring.

The film is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, one that those in the know assure me is quite different from its cinematic adaptation. At any rate, I can hardly imagine it being more time consuming than its contemporary counterpart.


William said...

From all that I have seen and heard of this film, it seems to me to be more of a retread of the Eric Roth's Forest Gump story (he wrote the screenplay for both movies) than anything else. Stick a slightly odd man into historically significant events and let the story tell itself through flashbacks.
Except, this film is boring and devoid of any sense of being. I agree with you completely on this film, and yes it does stray very far from the original source material.

Blake Badker said...

how about they just listen to that the ramones cover of "when i was young." and give that money to a small country. and then use a smaller budget to do another foot fist way, paul blart, etc. getting cliiche (dynamites) but still much more interesting than hollywood epics that are released just because another year went by.

Toto said...

Well said. Hard to believe a movie that looks so pretty and packs so much potential could move audiences so little.

Hey, let's give it 13 Oscar nominations!

Ryan said...

At least it's still easy for Brad Pitt to get work. Apparently.