Monday, March 2, 2009

Film Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Not quite on the button
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P Henson
Rating: **1/2

F. Scott Fitzergerald’s wonderful short story on degeneration and regeneration through the utterly curious life of his protagonist Benjamin Button was always going to be rich fodder for a cinematic translation. And it is indeed the concept and the special effects used to achieve a fantastical and profound story that makes the film worth your time. But sadly, unlike his earlier films, David Fincher (Seven, Zodiac, Fight Club) fails to inject the story with enough vigour or zip, leading to the end product to appear a bit too plodding and meandering.

The film starts with a bang though. To everyone’s shock, our protagonist, Benjamin, is born looking like an 80-year-old. His father, Mr Button is so horrified that he leaves the ghostly-looking baby at the doorstep of a home for the aged. A kindly nurse, Queenie (a brilliant and very effective Taraji P Henson) is struck by the baby’s ugliness but takes him under her care.

Even though Benjamin looks every bit like a tottering grandpa, everyone around treats him like a kid. The doctor who examines him doesn’t think he will live long. But live he does, and curiously starts to grow younger as the years progress. He starts to walk erect, his head looks fuller with grey hair and the wrinkles start to lessen.

Meanwhile, he gets friendly with one of the inmate’s granddaughter, the eight-year-old Daisy, and finds it perfectly normal to find her attractive (his real age being same as hers), until he’s told otherwise. The rest of the film takes us through Benjamin’s life, including his adventures at the sea and his meeting with a minister’s wife, who he drinks coffee with night after night. This is probably the film’s most tiresome part. Also, for a guy who spends all his time in the sea, why in the world was Brad Pitt given such a professorial look with long silver locks and robes!
The film, which almost comes to a standstill pre and post interval scenes, gathers some steam when Benjamin visits the home for the aged again and rekindles his affection with Daisy (Cate Blanchett), now a graceful ballerina. Their relationship has its ups and downs but the couple decides to stick together. There’s only one problem —Benjamin — with reversal of age — is growing younger.

Fitzergerald’s original story really emphasised on the vanity of youth and how nothing remains forever. Also, it’s a telling take on the age dynamics between man and woman, and our vulnerability against the ravages of time. Obviously, the writers of the film have made modifications to the author’s original story and fleshed it out more, but one isn’t sure if it necessarily adds to the film’s basic idea. While Fitzergarald’s short story passes like a breeze, thereby not letting you argue on logic, Fincher’s version is very long, so questions invariably pop in your head. Why would Daisy find the old Benjamin attractive in the first place? Also, the makers have kept Benjamin’s character a bit too hazy and placid, so as to bypass some logical questions, such as ‘Does he keep forgetting events and people of the previous year, considering he’s growing younger?’ and ‘What is it about him that women find attractive, since you’re given no idea of what his mental age is?’

Fincher’s story and characters are a mixed bag. Brad Pitt has been saddled with a role that is more a showcase for the special effects team than anything else. The characters are far too sketchy and their motivations unclear. Watch it for its interesting concept, but this isn’t a perfect film by any means.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Sandy. Nice review.

Mr. Bond

March 4, 2009 at 12:29 PM  
Anonymous Alexander said...

Fascinating review, Sandhya. You've made quite a number of perceptive points. I could hardly agree more. Eventhough I enjoyed the movie quite a lot, it was not the same experience as Seven, and surely it was very far from Fight club's devastating impression. On the whole, I'd rather read Fitzgerald's story again than seeing the movie. The only thing in the literary original I found somewhat disconcerting was that Benjamin could speak as a baby; but at least that settles the matter about his mental age.

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