The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount Pictures, PG-13)

button2.jpgIt probably bears mentioning that I don’t like Forrest Gump at all, but of course most people do, so when others say Ben Button is like Forrest Gump it is a compliment, but from me it is an insult. That said, I think Button is a superior film to Gump, if only because it is lacking some of the appalling political undertones that Forrest Gump tried to sneak in subliminally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As I was leaving the press screening of David Fincher’s new film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, its St. Louis publicist asked me what I thought. I told her that while it was pretty good, it was a little too Forrest Gump for me: sweeping historical epic, blatant Oscar bid, trying really hard to get you to cry at the end. To be honest, I was pretty satisfied with myself for my original-seeming comparison and seeing the similarities without having much time to think about it, and to be able to provide a detailed answer about why I felt that way. The publicist’s response to what I said? “Yeah, that’s what everyone is saying.”

Of course, when I got home and started reading other people’s reviews (which I refuse to do prior to seeing a movie), I found that that is what other people are saying. And aside from that, the screenplay was actually written by Eric Roth, who wrote Forrest Gump’s screenplay. So there goes my original criticism. How do I tackle this review now?

It probably bears mentioning that I don’t like Forrest Gump at all, but of course most people do, so when others say Ben Button is like Forrest Gump it is a compliment, but from me it is an insult. That said, I think Button is a superior film to Gump, if only because it is lacking some of the appalling political undertones that Forrest Gump tried to sneak in subliminally.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a man, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), who ages backward (meaning he is born a small, old man and gets progressively younger and younger throughout the course of his life). Seeing as how no one else in the world ages like that, he has no choice but to get involved both emotionally and physically with people who age the normal way, which causes all kinds of problems. What do you do with the love of your life when you two are only similar ages for maybe a ten-year window?

The love of Ben’s life is Daisy, who is played at her peak ages by Cate Blanchett. Cate is one of my favorite modern actresses, but I can’t help but feel that she is a little miscast here. It also seems pretty glaring that Brad Pitt plays Ben at pretty much every age (and believably, too, somehow; he makes quite a cute old man, I must say), thanks to some great special effects and makeup, but actresses who are clearly not Cate play Daisy when it is convenient, and even when it is Cate, her makeup is never as believable as Brad’s is to sell her on whatever age she is supposed to be.

Despite the amazing cast, the real standout here is Taraji P. Henson (Shug from Hustle & Flow) as Ben’s caregiver. I thought Henson was amazing in Hustle, but her work here is clearly Oscar caliber.

But that actually is part of the problem. David Fincher has made his name being unrelenting in his ability to get unlikely projects made, and by big studios with big stars and wide releases, at that (see: Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac). While his direction of Benjamin Button is quite good, it is weirdly upsetting to see him and his great cast making such a blatant Oscar bid. But from the looks of things, he has a pretty good shot at getting some, and maybe if he does, that will give him all the more power in Hollywood to get his particular brand of movies made. And that can’t be anything but a good thing. | Pete Timmermann

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