Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) [PG-13] ****

Daisy (Cate Blanchett) is nearly ninety; she lies dying in a New Orleans hospital bed while Hurricane Katrina bears down on the city. Sitting beside her is her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) who reads to Daisy from an old, worn journal. Gradually it becomes evident to Caroline that this is her father’s journal, the story of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), a strange man who was born in New Orleans in 1918 on the eve of the end of the Great War. He was born a normal sized baby, but with the wrinkled, arthritic physiology of an eighty-year-old man. His mother died in childbirth and his horrified father scooped up the monstrous baby and ran through the dark night until he reached a house where he left the baby on a stairway. Benjamin was found, raised, and loved by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) whom he always thought of as his mother. The doctors told Queenie the baby would not live long, but curiously, he thrived, growing stronger by the week and month. As time moved forward year by year, Benjamin aged backward at the same pace, growing taller, more virile and muscular, wrinkles fading and hair growing where there had been none. He and Daisy first met in the 1920s when she was still a child. Their relationship grew and changed until, as Daisy observed in the early 1960s when they were both around 40, they had met in the middle. It was then that they fell in love and Caroline was conceived. 

Eric Roth's screenplay was adapted from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, itself reportedly inspired by Mark Twain's comment that it's a pity the best part of life comes at the start, and the worst part at the end. Roth developed a concrete narrative around the unusual love story, and the romance of Benjamin and Daisy can best be described as episodic in nature. While Pitt and Blanchett give strong performances, Benjamin and Daisy's love story is undeniably sad, strange, and hard to comprehend; and as the two lovers age in opposite directions, their romance becomes frustrating, and ultimately unsatisfying. As an older man Benjamin was obviously fascinated by the much younger Daisy. Thirty years later, as Benjamin moves into his 20s while Daisy passes menopause, what can they be thinking as they make love, and as they reflect on their relationship? The film helps us understand that life is a process, and that the most successful marriages are life partnerships in which each partner is also a witness to the other's life, each allowing the other the space to grow and evolve as an individual. In this context, what is the value of a partner who grows younger as we age?

Directed by David Fincher, Brad Pitt's ungrowing process uses a new special effects technology which involves recording actors' facial movements in extraordinary detail. The film is clearly a technological success, although it is far less rewarding as a love story. Nevertheless, if you enjoy films that link time and aging, like Forrest GumpThe Notebook or Orlando you might enjoy this one. 

Labels: drama, fantasy, mystery, romance    
Internet Movie Database    
Metacritic 70/100    
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=71, viewers=74)    

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