Rated PG-13. Click here to view the trailer.
The spiritual sequel to Forrest Gump, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the best movie I’ve seen in a while. Yeah, it’s very, very long and has an absurd central premise, but to watch Benjamin Button is to enjoy virtually element of film-making at its best. David Fincher’s direction? Masterful. Eric Roth’s script? Epic. Makeup and special effects? Breathtaking. Brad Pitt’s performance? Stellar. Supporting cast? A delight to watch.
Cate Blanchett? The thesaurus and quite possibly the English language do not contain enough words to do her and her screen presence justice. The best I could come up with is: alluring, angelic, beguiling, bewitching, charming, chic, classy, comely, dazzling, delicate, delightful, enticing, exquisite, fair, fascinating, glowing, graceful, hypnotic, intriguing, magnetic, mesmerizing, pulchritudinous (memo to self: integrate “pulchritudinous” into everyday vocabulary), radiant, resplendent, statuesque, seductive, spellbinding and stunning. Oh, and the woman can act.
Based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald (and apparently “based” only means “we took the title and basic conceit then threw the rest out”), the movie opens in 2005 in a New Orleans hospital. A wrinkled, near-death Daisy (Blanchett) and her daughter (Julia Ormond) are bracing both for her death and for the wrath of Hurricane Katrina which is slowing zeroing in on them. (Why the plot needs the added drama/tension of Katrina, I don’t know and it doesn’t go anywhere) Aware that she is on her deathbed, Daisy asks her daughter, to read allow the diary of a curious stranger, Mr. Benjamin Button.
It tells the story of Benjamin (who else?), a boy born as a tiny, shriveled old raisin of a baby. His cheeks were not rosy, and his bottom was anything but smooth. Horrified at his son’s physical deformities and grief-stricken that his wife died giving birth, the elder Mr. Button abandons him at the steps of a nursing home. Queenie (a very good Taraji P. Henson), takes pity on the wrinkled, arthritic Benjamin and introduces the him to the addled old folks as her sisters’ illegitimate child. Says one old woman,”He looks just like my ex-husband.” Queenie replies, “Yes, he is going to face some special problems: the poor boy done come out white.”
From there, Benjamin grows up. Sort of. We begin to see a tiny, ancient hint of Pitt as his physical body grows, and his hairline begins to procede as he ages backwards. He meets Daisy, a precocious, red-headed seven-year-old granddaughter of one the home’s residents. They’re both seven years old, even though Button is hunchbacked and still looks looks and sounds the part of an octogenarian with a young boy’s urge to play in the dirt. It’s a little disconcerting at first, but any queasiness is soon forgotten.
At 17 – and with the physical body of a 65 year-old man – Button decides sow his wild oats. He gets a job on a tug boat, travels to Russia, shares an old subplot with Tilda Swinton and eventually even sinks a Japanese submarine. Daisy also leaves the nest, dancing her way through New York and Europe. Eventually our star-crossed lovers’ ages will meet (Daisy on the way up, Benjamin on the way down). The intersection of their lives and flawed love is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
“Heartwarming and heartbreaking” pretty much sums up the whole movie, but there are a few minor glitches. The clock (you have to see the movie) is a beautiful metaphor, but I’m not sure it meshes very well with the rest of the film. Tilda Swinton’s tangent is unnecessary, but she’s such an intriguing actress, it’s not really a problem. Age makeup can often be distracting and unconvincing, but the makeup artists struck a balance between showing the ravages of time and letting the undeniable physical beauty of both actors shine through. Who would have thought it was possible for a 42-year-old mother of two (Blanchett) could convincingly play a character at 17 years, 84 years, and every age in between?
My main qualm is the no one seems all that surprised that Benjamin gets younger and stronger after beginning life looking a miniature Joe Paterno. Other than his father, no one seems the least bit non-plussed. Where’s the team of scientists? The movie takes place just after the birth of yellow journalism, so where is the paparazzi? Where was P.T. Barnum or Robert Ripley?
Whatever small flaws that might exist, Blanchett and Pitt each do yeoman’s work. For years I dismissed Mr. Jolie as a pretty boy coasting on his good looks. He may not be the white Sidney Poitier, but he’s a top notch actor. As for Blanchett, she has a way to adding just the right touch to her dialog and there is genuine emotion in her eyes.
I mentioned that Benjamin Button is the spiritual sequel to Forrest Gump. It feels much the same and the plot has the same sweeping, episodic feel (Eric Roth penned both scripts). Like Gump, You’ll be exhausted by the time it’s over, but you’ll be satisfied at watching the drama that is a man’s life.