>> The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (7.5/10)

The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonBenjamin Button is born old.  Left by his father, a button tycoon, on the doorstep of a Louisiana nursing home, his wrinkly, decrepit baby body is raised by one of the caregivers in the home.  As he grows older in years, his body grows younger.  He meets a little girl named Daisy, and though he is her age, his elderly appearance keeps him from becoming her playmate.  Instead, he waits out the decades, working as a hired hand on a tugboat, seeing the world, until the time comes where his age and his looks can both catch up and meet square in the middle.  He returns to Daisy, hopeful that they can spend a few years together, before she grows too old and he grows too young to keep their romance going.

At its best, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a technical marvel and a warm-hearted, beautful movie.  At its worst, Benjamin Button is a desperate, overblown exercise in sentimentality. trying very, very hard to get a reaction that really shouldn’t be this difficult to get.  It wants you to feel romantic and wistful and sad, but it takes such a detour-laden path to get there, that the film never earns those honest emotions from the audience in response.  The last time I can think of where someone spent this much time and money and tech whiz-bang trying to get an audience to cry a little was Bicentennial Man, the multi-generational Robin Williams sci-fi love story.

If Benjamin Button is primarily the love story between Benjamin (Brad Pitt) and Daisy (Cate Blanchett) , and I think that it is, since the movie is framed by Julia Ormand as Daisy’s daughter, reading aloud from Button’s diary to Daisy while she waits on her death bed on the eve of hurricane Katrina (that’s three tear-jerking situations stuffed into one, and yet, no tears are jerked), then why is the meat of the love story relegated to the final forty-five minutes of a two hour and forty-five minute film?  If I asked you to take me someplace I had never been before, and you drove around for a long while, and the scenery was nice and I enjoyed the conversation, but when we arrived, I realized that not only had I been to this place before, but that you took the long way to get there, some thoughts are going to pop up.  Did you know where you were going?  Why did you take the long way?  Do I have a right to complain, since I admittedly enjoyed the overall trip?

Director David Fincher has created a solid drama, with a solid, likeable cast, from a screenplay by Forrest Gump screenwriter Eric Roth, who borrows his own emotional beats of Gump to diminished effect.  Jenny becomes Daisy.  Mrs. Gump becomes Queenie.  The boarding house becomes an old folks’ home.  Lieutenant Dan and Vietnam become Captain Mike and World War II.  Forrest’s leg braces become Benjamin’s wheelchair.  There are even specific scenes that feel lifted wholesale from Gump, like the one that finds Benjamin heading to New York to watch Daisy perform, then getting his heart broken when he sees she’s got a new life.  Just like Jenny and Forrest, Daisy gives Benjamin the “go-home-this-is-my-life-now” speech, while Benjamin offers puppy dog eyes and plaintive declarations of love.

Some moments in Benjamin Button are truly special, but the undeniable success of a handful of scenes is not enough to elevate The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to masterpiece status.  The bittersweet romance works only through the strength of the actors, not the derivative screenplay or the impressive cinematography, and generally, when you try and force movie magic in a way that is more technical than organic, the audience is going to resist a little.  Despite all that, Benjamin Button is so close to being great at times that it still manages to be a must-see this Holiday season.  You can tell what it’s aiming for, and it misses, maybe not enough to damage the overall enjoyment of the movie, but enough that you’ll be able to tell.

7.5 on a 1 to 10 scale

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2 Comments

  1. i was pleasantly surprised to find out that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the short story upon which Benjamin Button (the movie) was based, then mention this in the opening credits

  2. great film from start to finish. although the film edges to near 3hrs long it seems to glide with its wonderful use of storytelling and wonderful acting. pitt is superb in his role and certainly comes of age as far as his acting skills go. a beautiful story with touching moments make this film unforgetable. a gem .10/10.


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