January 06, 2009

Movie Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Since I first saw the trailer for this film, I have been looking forward to its release. I thought it looked like a beautiful love story, but more than that, an exploration into one man's life. It would be a story about a man who faces insurmountable challenges from the get go, but still has a full life. Boy, was I right. But I had my doubts that would be right.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is based on a short story written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The short story and movie couldn't be more different. Many people say the book is always better. Here is a case where that is not true. The short story is typical Fitzgerald. The family is dysfunctional. The content is dark, dark, dark. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. In the short story, Benjamin is born, lives, and dies. Everything goes very quickly. His wife is mentioned in one paragraph. You can read the whole thing yourself online. I found the short story depressing. Benjamin is not a particularly likable character. After his wife gets old, he grows bored of her and goes off to have adventure. He is rejected his whole life except for one period where he is a successful football star. Lucky for the screenwriters, the movie goes in a different direction. Don't get me wrong, the short story is well written and will make you think. But I like stories with some hope. The short story doesn't have it.

The movie, on the other hand, is a tale of a man who by all accounts should have died. His mother dies giving birth to him. His father considers him a curse and slips into the night to get rid of him as quickly as possible. By some miraculous touch, he lives. He is born an old man and finds himself getting younger as time passes. He has many physical problems. The first 20 so years of his life are spent in a "home" for invalids and people with disabilities: the rejects of society. He is taken in by the kind young Queenie, who becomes Button's adopted Momma.

The plot takes many twists and turns that would go on longer than a review should. Suffice it to say that Benjamin visits many places, meets many interesting people, and his ailment does nothing to stop him. The film that is most similar would be Forrest Gump, so I wasn't at all surprised when I learned that Eric Roth, one of the co-writers of the screenplay for Benjamin Button, also wrote the Forrest Gump screenplay.

The main relationship of note is his lifelong friendship and then romance and then something even more with the red-headed Daisy.
Benjamin and her connect instantly when he is old and she is young because they are both old souls. They like the same stories and dream of adventure. Their love is tragic, however, because of the aging problems. Can you carry on a romantic relationship when the man appears to be in his 20s and the woman in her 40s? Sure, but what about when the man turns into a teenager and even younger?

If you don't like long drawn-out emotional romances, don't let this scare you away. Much of the content is odd enough to balance out the melodrama. In one scene, Queenie takes Benjamin to a tent revival. The preacher gets his lungs going and the praying gets going and in the excitement of it all, Benjamin stands up and begins to walk for the first time. It is a miracle, and then the sweaty preacher drops dead. Scenes like this keep the melodrama from taking over the story.

Although the movie is about 3 hours long, it didn't drag for me. I was immersed enough that I didn't want it to end. Brad Pitt does an exceptional job as Benjamin Button. He plays Button as a man who knows something is wrong with him on the inside, but ignores it on the outside. It is difficult to convey internal tension without speaking it aloud, and this makes Pitt a great actor. I have always believed Brad Pitt is an awesome actor because of two movies: Interview with a Vampire and Twelve Monkeys. You can add Benjamin Button to his most successful roles. It is important to note that many actors play Benjamin Button, and all do a wonderful job, but the movie belongs to Brad Pitt.

Cate Blanchett is not quite there for me. She plays Daisy like a superficial artist type in her 20s. I know they were trying to show that as a young woman, Daisy would be more superficial than later in life, but the character wasn't believable until she was in her 30s, and she and Benjamin are supposed to be about the same age. It felt forced to me when she was the star dancer. Once she is in her 30s, she does a fine job as a middle-aged and older woman. I'm not sure what could have made it better, but she just came across as snobby, which wasn't believable for an old soul like Daisy.

But go see Benjamin Button, it is a great flick and will most likely be tagged for many Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor.

4 comments:

Eva said...

I've given you the Premio Dardos award! Check it out at http://evaentertained.blogspot.com/2009/01/thanks-quarterlife-query.html.

Gman said...

I just saw 12 monkeys. Weird movie. Might go see this. I really don't see alot of movies.

coffee said...

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

Zee said...

I had to look up those abbreviations to see what your comment was actually saying coffee person, so I think you are saying Cate Blanchett, good, close ups on Pitt, bad. Yeah, Cate did okay with her accent, but I still think she did a poor job as the 20 something Daisy. She did well as the old lady. As far as the close ups on Brad's face, I think most female would see that differently.