09 January 2009
The Curious Movie About Benjamin Button
Inevitably people will ask you what you thought of movie that you just saw. For the most part folks want something simple by way of response, along the lines of: great, good, okay, bad, thumbs up. I wouldn't know how to give that sort of stock answer for David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which is, as they say, in theaters now. Based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, the film tells the story of a man born old who ages backwards until his inevitable death in infancy many decades later.
Here's what I will say: I thought the first hour and half or so was brilliant. As Fincher showed in Zodiac (2007) he can really capture a time period and place. In Zodiac he re-created not only the look, but the feel of the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and the 1970's. I should know, I was there. With Button he brought audiences back in time to the period in the U.S. between World Wars. Fincher's attention to detail must put a tremendous burden on his staff. The payoff is remarkable. Also whatever special effects and makeup were at work to make Brad Pitt look like a tiny octogenarian are the stuff of Oscars. Pitt's performance as a a little old man deserves kudos as well.
However as the movie progressed it became increasingly less interesting to me. Part of the problem was the central love story between Pitt and co-star Cate Blanchett. I am of the unshakable opinion that Ms. Blanchett is one of the finest actors in film today and here again her performance is excellent. Meanwhile Pitt, as Button became less intriguing, perhaps a natural by product of being closer to his own real age. But most of all the two actors simply had no chemistry. I believed that they were in love because they acted as though they were, but couldn't see it or feel it. I was being told not shown.
More moving, believable and intriguing was the short lived romance between Button and Tilda Swinton's character, Elizabeth Abbott. These scenes were among the last really strong ones in the film.
Part of the problem that I believe Fincher faced was dealing with Eric Roth's Forest Gump-like screenplay. This isn't altogether surprising considering that Roth wrote that screenplay as well. Like the story of Gump, Button the movie was a bit too sentimental and earnest. Romance, sentiment and life lessons are far too easy to get wrong in film. They are like adding sugar to a recipe. Usually a dash is fine and cupful, much easier to dispense, makes it way too sweet.
So what kind of answer have I provided for someone asking me what I thought of the Curious Case of Benjamin Button? I certainly haven't merely said it was "okay." or provided a mixed review. Overall I was quite satisfied with it. Also I know people who I'm sure would hate it just as I know people who would love it. So whatever do I say?
In film as in life, there are a lot of questions that just don't lend themselves to easy answers.