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Monday, February 09, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I went into Benjamin Button with very high expectations, being a great fan of both David Fincher’s direction (Zodiac, Fight Club) and the formidable acting chops of Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt. After sitting through its 166 minutes of unbearably maudlin weirdness, I have to come right out and say it: despite its achievements in the areas of makeup, special effects and cinematography, Benjamin Button is a tedious and insufferably twee film. What is it about F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptations? The 1974 film version of The Great Gatsby managed to turn a short novel into a two-and-a-half hour melodramatic snore-a-thon. Shelley Duvall starred in a regrettable though mercifully short version of his even shorter story, “Bernice Bobs her Hair.” De Niro practically carried The Last Tycoon , but alas Elia Kazan, after wringing all of the spontaneity and life out of the story, took the movie out back and shot it in the third act. Yes, it seems Fitzgerald has a curse hanging over his adapted works, and Button is no exception.

The story is simple: Benjamin Button ages backwards. He starts out as very small old man with the mind of a curious child, ages into a middle-aged man with the mind of a middle-aged man, and ends up a confused toddler towards the end of his life. The film examines the ephemeral nature of love, specifically how the two main characters enjoy brief moments of happiness with one another before passing in and out of each other’s lives forever. It’s a sweet enough idea, but it lacks any real nuance or depth. Benjamin Button is not a guy I really care about. Beyond the fact that he is a backwards-aging-freak-man-baby, he has no interesting qualities. I don’t get what Daisy (Blanchett) sees in him, beyond the fact that, on a good day, he looks like Brad bloody Pitt. While Fincher’s recreation of New Orleans from the Jazz Age up to Hurricane Katrina is beautiful and mesmerizing, I kept regretting I couldn’t just watch the whole thing without the creepy, vacant-eyed Button marring my view of the riverboats and French Quarter. 13 Oscar nominations? Really Academy? What about Rachel Getting Married, or Persepolis, or In Bruges or Che or Synecdoche, New York? If there’s one thing I will say about the Academy, it’s that its members just love a bandwagon. The smoke-and-mirror superficiality of Benjamin Button, however, make it impossible for me to root for.