The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Film review by: Witney Seibold
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a sweeping, florid romance about a couple that is destined, destined, to be together, despite the hundreds of miles and difficult personality conflicts, despite the different upbringings, despite the clash of his old-time sensibilities and her ultra-modern progressiveness.
Oh, and did I mention that the guy’s body is growing in reverse? Yeah, the male in the couple in question was born baby-sized, but was all wrinkly and wracked with cataracts and riddled with arthritis. As he got older, the wrinkles started to smooth out, his hair grew back and then grew dark. He went from a frail old-looking body to a virile one. Eventually, in old age, shrank back to a child-looking person.
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” directed by David Fincher, and written by Eric Roth (of “Forrest Gump” fame and “Lucky You” infamy) is as treacly a film as one can hope to encounter. It deals not with real-life human emotions, but the delirious pitch of melodrama that we’ve come to expect from romance novels or screenings of “Forrest Gump.” This is a fine approach to a film, if the filmmakers can sell it. Sadly, I wasn’t entirely sold on “Benjamin Button.” Sure, the storytelling was fine, and the performances were good, but I expected more from the man who brought us the sublime “Zodiac” just last year.
As for the reverse aging gimmick, it is just that: a gimmick. By having Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) age in reverse, we are not learning any lessons about life. Sure, the screenplay tries to shove some specious platitudes in our face like “Everyone’s gotta live the way they live” or “Nothing lasts, but some things last.” We are just given a man with a peculiar health malady and how he was raised in an old folks’ home by his surrogate momma (Taraji P. Henson), how he traveled the world and fell in love with an older lady (Tilda Swinton), and eventually landed back in the arms of his childhood sweetheart, etc. etc. Said sweetheart is Daisy (Cate Blanchett), a spunky redhead who befriends with Benjamin as a kid, becomes a wild citygirl in her teens and 20s, and finally falls into bed with Ben when they’re in their 30s.
The film is narrated by Daisy as she lays on her deathbed in a New Orleans hospital just as Hurricane Katrina is moving in. She has asked her daughter (Julia Ormond) to read Benjamin’s diary as she lays dying. The inclusion of Katrina feels less like a poignant dramatic point, and more like exploiting current events.
Pitt plays Benjamin at all stages with the aid of makeup and digital effects. A digitally aged Brad Pitt head is digitally placed on the body of a child actor, or perhaps even a robot actor. I imagine this was Fincher’s way of maintaining continuity in a way that no other film has even attempted, but the result is ultimately unnerving and distracting. We are not involved so much in Benjamin’s story as we are in Pitt’s FX ordeal. And does anyone else find it massively unfair that cutting-edge special effects technologies are now only serving to make Brad Pitt look even more handsome?
The same sort of thing was done with Blanchett. The actresses who play the young Daisy (Elle Fanning, Madisen Baity) had their voices dubbed over by a distorted-to-sound-younger Blanchett. Effects make her look younger when she’s in her 20’s, and some impressive makeup make her look aged.
As a special effects extravaganza, this film is spectacular. As a drama it’s very much lacking.
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was nominated for 13 Academy Awards. I predict it will win few.