The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a movie in search of a point. A nearly three-hour run time that takes us all over the world, the best makeup and facial CGI of the year, and terrific performances across the board all come together to give us — what?
We open on an old lady in a hospital in New Orleans. There are hurricane warnings, and we assume — although it’s not confirmed until the final words of the movie — that it’s taking place a few hours before Hurricane Katrina hit. Her daughter (Julia Ormond) is sitting with her, basically waiting for her to die, and while they wait, and the hurricane draws closer, the old lady gives her daughter a diary and asks her to read from it. The diary is by a man named Benjamin Button.
I love set-ups like that.
We jump back to New Orleans circa the 1920s, and a baby is born so hideous that his father almost drowns it before taking pity and dropping it off at an old folks home run by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). Queenie asks a doctor to take a look at him, and the doctor says that while it’s definitely a baby, his health and skin resemble a man well into his eighties.
Thus the movie slowly and steadily tells Benjamin’s life story, as he ages forwards in mind but backwards on the outside. The effect to which the movie does this — a combination of makeup and CGI that makes it clear that it’s Brad Pitt even when he’s a ten-year-old and looks seventy-five — is flawless.
As this is also an epic love story, soon Daisy (Elle Fanning, Madisen Beaty, and finally Cate Blanchett) enters the picture. She’s an ambitious dancer, and they generally keep missing each other as he wanders around and lets things happen to him: he goes to work for a boat with a colorful captain (Jared Harris), travels the globe, has an affair with an older woman (Tilda Swinton), and witnesses a naval battle in World War II firsthand.
When the two finally hook up, as Pitt and Blanchett’s stardom and the laws of movies insist must happen, the question becomes how their relationship will last as Daisy grows older while Pitt grows younger. Unfortunately, the true poignancy of this dilemma is thrown to the wind when the movie gives everyone the easy way out and absolves everyone of sin. (That sentence might make sense after you see the movie — point is, it’s monumentally frustrating.)
In the original F. Scott Fitzgerald short story from which this movie takes its title, Benjamin has the body and mind of an old man when he’s born; the story ends with him attending kindergarten with his own
In the movie, Benjamin’s body is the only thing that ages backwards; his mind is normal. In other words, the magic is only on the surface, which is a pretty good metaphor for the movie itself — it never drags, fans of epics will find a lot to admire, and it wants to be profound, it approaches profundity at points, but ultimately, it has nothing to say.
Movie Grade: C+