“What if I told you that instead of gettin’ older, I was gettin’ younger than everybody else?”
I have had a gander at some of the older reviews and analysis and thought to myself, hey, I’ve been blogging for a few years and some reviews didn’t get that much attention. Especially from ‘back in the day’. This is one of them – published in June 2009. I love David Fincher, but its fair to say that I hate The Curious Case for Benjamin Button. Even now, nobody really mentions it anymore. But lets re-light that debate and flash back to 2009 and this misjudged movie.
I watched the film in the run up to the Oscars and – as a huge fan of David Fincher, Brad Pitt and Eric Roth (Well, Forrest Gump is one of my favourite films) – I had no intention to dislike the film so … be prepared for a review that contains explicit language.
We start in New Orleans, whereby Daisy Williams is on her deathbed hours before hurricane Katrina hits, and she begins to recount a story to her daughter, Caroline. First she tells of a clock-maker whose son died in war. Because of this tragedy, he makes the clock turn backwards so that everyone knows he wishes he could go back in time and keep his Son alive. Following this, Daisy asks Caroline to read out loud the diary of Benjamin Button – a man whose affliction is growing old and getting younger. Beginning life as a diseased, dying old man, Benjamin defies expectation and lives, getting younger and healthier as each day passes. Initially raised by Queenie, Benjamin also gets many morals from her that he keeps throughout his life – specifically a statement: “Just be thankful for what you got”. Daisy met Benjamin through her grandmother, who was a resident at Queenie’s care home – the home where Benjamin was raised. Throughout their lives, both Daisy and Benjamin stayed in contact meeting up briefly in their twenties – where Daisy’s career as a dancer was stopped by a car accident – and then meeting again in their forties, whereby they both matched in age. When finding out about Daisy’s pregnancy (of the woman this story is being recounted to), Benjamin decides to leave knowing that his affliction will be problematic in raising children. Years later, Daisy is in a new relationship with a new husband – who her child believes is her actual Father – and Benjamin, now as a teenager – turns up. They have one special night together and part. Many years afterwards, Daisy sees Benjamin as a child, having lost his memory and then, eventually becoming a baby, dying in her arms.
“Fully spent by this story, [Back on Daisy’s deathbed with her daughter] Daisy and her daughter share a sense of relief and closure that comes with the revelation of long-hidden truths. In the background, Hurricane Katrina is getting dangerously near the hospital and soon diverts Carolines attention away from her mother. Daisy looks to the window and sees a hummingbird approach and then fly away into the storm. The camera pans out to reveal hospital staff scurrying to evacuate patients and transport medical supplies. We then see a montage of some of the memorable characters from the film, spoken of by Ben himself, and ending with the hurricane’s waters washing into a storeroom where sits the old clock, still ticking backwards.”
Special FX and a Timeless Narrative
This is really quite a film. The special effects are flawless – and showing the range of ages of Benjamin and Daisy does look quite smooth and in no way affects the watching-of-the-film. Basically, these groundbreaking effects, do not interrupt the narrative. The narrative has enough problems.
First off, the ‘New Orleans’ context. Whats the point. Why? They might as well have set it on Greenwich Street, NYC on September 11, 2001. Or any other major historical event – the idea of Hurricane Katrina somehow linked to this fictional story, if anything, is quite insulting to the actual people who were affected by the disaster. Not to mention the simple fact that, as a viewer, you are interested in Benjamin Button, not Granny’s tale. Eric Roth used a similar ‘flashback-to-the-events’ in ‘Forrest Gump‘, but that’s because the bus-rider who sat next to Forrest on the bench was in a state of awe as he recounted his life, while – first off – Caroline, is more concerned about her dying mother and the disaster waiting to hit the hospital, so – understandably – she is not in the same position as the bench-sharers in Gump. She might simply be interested in the bunch of secrets her mother kept from her – secrets that she didn’t really have to keep. Whatever the case may be, it was unnecessary and simply stalls the story. It would have been better to simply cut out the entire ‘Titanic’ rip-off sequences.
Is it wrong to not like Brad Pitt?
Next point is Brad Pitt. I have never had a problem with Brad Pitt. ‘Seven’ and ‘Fight Club’ I would put amongst the best films in the 90’s -‘Fight Club’ possibly the best. So David Fincher directing Pitt again was a brilliant combination, but alas, Brad Pitt is not playing a young, arrogant, self-satisfied smug character. He’s playing a slow-speaking, slightly nervous, old/young man and, the fact of the matter is, he’s not that interesting. Now my blame for the film goes to Brad Pitt (could he have made the character a little bit more interesting) and Eric Roth (the script has so many problems I feel). But I don’t want to dwell on how shit Brad Pitt is but, put it this way, I got bored of his gormless look. His semi-awe, semi-astonishment with eyes half-asleep. Where the hell was his passion? Maybe he is positive about life, maybe he lives by his sounds-a-lot-like-life-is-like-a-box-of-chocs “Just be thankful for what you got” statement, but – unlike Gump – Benjamin Button isn’t stupid, he is actually quite perceptive and knows a lot so why on earth do they not dwell on these factors? why do they insist on zooming-in on Pitt’s face as if his face-of-astonishment is good enough to clarify what he says?
To add to this, why does he not utilise his getting-younger affliction. He might as well have a scarred face or be burn victim, because other than his patronising attitude to life, he seems to be completely unaware that he has this amazing gift. Cate Blanchett’s ‘Daisy’ goes through her own lots-of-boyfriends phase and pursues a dream and fails – all very interesting life situations which many people can relate to. While Benjamin Button seems to not have any dream – he just loves all the people he meets, and during his thirties and twenties, we see about 5 minutes of flashbacks showing him travelling. These five minutes could have been the film itself – showing how he is tackling being a young, Brad Pitt: maybe an opportunity for the smug arrogance Brad Pitt can do so well! (Probably wouldn’t work). Does Benjamin Button go through any emotional turmoil? Considering the problem he has, you would think there is scope for real anger, frustration or desire but alas, this is never seen. If I recall, at one point he gets angry telling Daisy that his daughter needs a ‘father not a playmate’. This is the most emotional he gets – even leaving Daisy asleep, leaving her all his assets, he does not at any point seem unsure. You don’t feel him longing to stay, but aware he has to go. He simply skulks away quietly – patience showing thought I guess – and gets on his very cool bike wearing very cool clothes. Him, breaking down as he leaves wold have been too much to ask. Maybe he doesn’t cry – another affliction that doesn’t bother him.
In closing…I can’t believe it was even nominated for Best Picture, it really falls flat on any emotional level. I really am unsure how to approach the next David Fincher – a flawless legend prior to this piece of trash.
Originally Published: 20th June 2009
[It’s nice to know that the next David Fincher was The Social Network … Fincher you are okay in my book now!]
It'll definitely get a mention on this week's Reel Insight – so check it out.
I've now caught up on all the episodes now – so the new one will be listened to very soon! Good times!
Scathing review there Simon. Fincher obviously took note, considering how good Social Network was though…
Seriously, Fincher went down in my estimationsn in a big way when this film was released … and i hoped it would be so much better. But, alas, THE SOCIAL NETWORK has re-established him as such a force in Hollywood.