Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I had planned on seeing Will Smith's Seven Pounds today. But time constraints ruled that out and I ended up seeing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I wasn't really up for it, but I figured if Hollie liked it, it must be okay.

And frankly, it was everything I expected it to be. Not bad. Not great. Basically a rehash of Forrest Gump.

Take one simple naif, southern setting, voiceover narrative, strong mother figure, improbably romantic interest, odd characters met along the way, impressive use of CGI--well, if you've seen Forrest Gump, you've seen Benjamin Button.

The only twist on the story is that Benjamin Button ages backwards. It's an interesting wrinkle (no pun intended) -- but it amounts to nothing in the story. At first I thought it might be the illumination of the adage that "youth is wasted on the young." But whether Benjamin is a seven year-old in a seventy year-old body, or sixty year-old in the body of a twenty year-old, he remains the same throughout. Despite his travels and the many different people he encounters along the way, he is still a cipher.

Blank slate. Tabla rasa. Devoid of presence and personality.

With the opening anecdote about clockmaker Mr. Gateau and his clock that ran backwards--along with the numerous images of clocks throughout the film--perhaps Benjamin Button is a demonstration of the artifice of time. While of course we experience the cycles and rhythms of day and night and the changing of the seasons, the seconds, minutes and hours that our lives are broken into are a man-made constraint.

No matter what the thematic purpose of the film may have been, I was left scratching my head as to what it all meant. All 2 hours and 40 minutes of it! While beautiful to watch, the pace did drag at times and I'm sure at least 30-40 minutes could have been cut without any great loss to the story. There wasn't much of a story per se: Benjamin is born old, abandoned to be raised by the nurturing Queenie (a terrific Taraji P. Henson), grows younger, goes to sea, goes to war, comes back home, reunites with Daisy, leaves Daisy, regresses to childhood and infancy and dies.

Blah, blah, blah. The end.

Blanchett and Pitt are gorgeous to watch and there are some great supporting performances. In addition to Henson--who was a marvel in Hustle and Flow and a force of nature in Talk to Me--Tilda Swinton makes an appearance as one of Benjamin's lovers, Elle Fanning plays the young version of Daisy and Mahershalalhashbaz Ali plays Queenie's husband, Tizzy. (I spent hours trying to figure out where I knew him from. Finally it hit me--Richard Tyler from The 4400!)

If you loved Forrest Gump (I didn't) and you love Brad Pitt, then this is definitely the movie for you. But if you want to see something more unique, with more emotional resonance, skip this pretty but empty time waster and go see Slumdog Millionaire instead.

1 comment:

  1. Cate Blanchett with a southern accent FTW; but Benjamin Button kept dragging on, always pausing dramatically on Brad Pitt's face, a lot like Meet Joe Black, FTL