Wednesday, December 31, 2008
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
is a great title. I love the word curious, who wouldn't want a name like Benjamin Button, and the title is perfectly balanced alliteration. It's the title of a 1921 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and, as you've probably heard, also the title of a movie starring Brad Pitt. The movie stretches the story to span almost three hours and the majority of the 20th century, following the life of Benjamin, a boy born in 1918 New Orleans with the physicality of an old man. The startling appearance of grizzled baby Benjamin causes his father to leave him on the stoop of an old folks home, where he will be raised by a black woman named Queenie (the terrific Taraji Henson - remember her from
Hustle and Flow
?) We soon learn two things: Benjamin is aging backwards, growing younger as the years pass, and
(Computer Generated Imagery) is getting better! Watching young, but old, Benjamin roll around in a wheelchair and then attempt to walk during a church revival is still impressive, even after
The movie's premise is a whimsical one and I couldn’t glean a greater point for it, other than we are vulnerable and weak at both birth and death, in need of the care of our fellow humans. The rest of the movie has that "life is a journey" quality as we follow Benjamin's adventures and the characters punctuating his growth. A pygmy takes him to his first brothel, a tugboat captain shows him the world, and a practical aristocrat (played by Tilda Swinton) initiates Benjamin into the world of adult love. As you can see, the fantastical is alive and well here - I mean, how many of you have ever met a tugboat captain or a pygmy? I didn’t mind the artiface so much, though I did in Forrest Gump - and these two films share the same sappy screenwriter, Eric Roth. The reason I don't mind it in Benjamin Button is because of the movie's technical attributes, notably the production design and cinematography. David Fincher ( Fight Club, Zodiac, Se7en ) directs and I think he's incredibly talented. It really shows here, and his vision and direction make the movie worth seeing.
I should mention that this is a very romantic film, with Benjamin's love for a woman named Daisy (Cate Blanchett) the connective thread between decades and adventures. Blanchett is always reliable and sometimes great ( Notes on a Scandal ), but Daisy doesn't give her a lot to do, other than show off her perfect skin, dance in a beautiful scene in a park gazebo, and wear some pretty convincing aging make-up at the end. Brad Pitt does a decent job as Benjamin, though I think all of the Oscar buzz won't be enough to catapult him past Sean Penn, whose transformative performance in Milk is so deserving. Benjamin Button's release is an unabashed ploy for the Oscars but it also feels right for this time of year and seeing it in the theaters is key since the period detail, lighting, and evocative interiors look amazing on the big screen (though Fincher doesn't come near the artistry of Wong Kar-wai ). Don't expect to be challenged, only entertained, and give yourself over to the visual beauty of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button . I did and it was worth it.