‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ is a film about a man who is born old, ages backwards and dies a newborn baby. If this were possibly something that could actually happen, let’s say that I was about forty years old when I entered the theater to watch ‘Benjamin Button’ and bottomed out at around fourteen by the time the movie finally got around to ending. Longest Movie Ever. Okay, so maybe it’s not the longest movie ever but David Fincher’s epic fantasy tale sure did take its own sweet time. Length aside, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ still managed to be a very entertaining, very satisfying dramatic piece.
The baby was born sometime around the end of the First World War in the city of New Orleans as his father Thomas (Jason Flemyng) races home just in time to see his wife expire from the complicated birth. Thomas takes one look at his newborn son then he tries to throw the baby in the river. Because it’s the ugliest freaking baby you’ll ever want to see. That baby was so damn ugly that I might’ve done the same thing. Sheesh that baby was ugly. Circumstance however lands the baby on the doorstep of an old folks home run by the barren Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) who through some slight of hand is able to explain off how this ugly white baby might actually belong to a pretty Black woman. She names the boy Benjamin and now his story begins.
This story is actually being told in the present time as an old woman named Daisy (Cate Blanchette), knocking hard on deaths door, is lying in a hospital bed spending her final moments with her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormand). The old lady passes the diary of Benjamin Button to her daughter and asks her to read it, and through Caroline’s voice we get to experience the rather lengthy life in reverse of one Benjamin Button.
Other than the fact that he’s aging backwards and that he calls a Black woman mama, Benjamin’s life isn’t all that different from that of anyone else for the most part. He
He learns to walk, learns to read, has his first drink, goes to a brothel, leaves home, gets a job, gets shot at by Germans, falls in love and has his heart broken. Typical stuff. Despite the changes that occur over the years in Benjamin’s life, the constants that remain are his mother Queenie whose love for her adoptive son never wavers, and Daisy who he met while they both were children. And this is truly what the movie is about, the love story of Benjamin and Daisy, chronicling how they first kept in contact, then drifted apart. She declares lust for him but he rejects her, he declares love for her but she rejects him only to have the pair eventually come together, as we knew they would, and experience the most wonderful love affair which was doomed probably from the day Benjamin was born.
It’s not often that we get see movies as grand in scale, pleasing both aurally and optically as David Fincher’s ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’. This is a big movie with huge movie stars, great actors and a director who has a reputation for being almost maniacal in his attention to detail, and it shows. Flawless in its presentation. Not a flawless movie perhaps but it is really something to see and experience. Not merely content to be a beautiful looking movie filled with beautiful people, ‘Benjamin Button’ is filled all kinds of allegory and entendre, blatant and subtle, within its narrative and further propelled by its imagery. Sometimes these messages by Fincher and his screenwriter Eric Roth flow smoothly within the context of the story, and it is these times that the story of Benjamin Button is at its best, but sometimes these efforts feel out of step to me and disrupt the flow, often coming off as forced and inauthentic, and it’s at these time that one becomes aware that they are sitting in a theater watching a long ass movie.
It certainly doesn’t start out that way though as the first hour or so of the film is filled with wonder and fantasy highlighted by a terrific performance from Taraji P. Henson, who I’ve seen in a number of films and she has yet to play the same role twice. Watching Queenie care for the boy and watching the boy as an old man react to his surroundings, ancient but full of wander, and watching Brad Pitt in the body of an old man experiencing life at his true age in years was when the film was at its best. It is when Brad Pitt became Brad Pitt, or chronologically speaking, the time Benjamin Button returned home from the war that the movie became less interesting. Not bad in any sense, but the love story of Benjamin and Daisy didn’t sustain the same wonder of fantasy that the film began with. Taken separately it’s probably a pretty good love story, but in accordance with what we’ve seen to this point, particularly with a pair of actors with the cache of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchette carrying the movie, it was a bit underwhelming and got tedious at times.
But the films impressive cast largely delivered. Taraji P. Henson as already mentioned, Tilda Swinton as the first woman to love Benjamin Button, Julia Ormond as the films axis and there’s nothing anyone can say about Cate Blanchette’s talent that hasn’t been said already. The only problems I had with Brad Pitt’s performance was that I don’t believe he sold the audience as a wise old man in a teenagers body nearly as well as delivered the goods as an young man full of wonder and curiosity trapped in the body of senior citizen.
Don’t misread me here because ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ is a very good movie and one that I enjoyed watching for the most part, but I have observed that a lot of people seem to be quite passionate in their feelings of like or dislike surrounding this film. Quite passionate. Pull back on the name calling folks and simply enjoy the film or dislike the film for what it is or what you wish it would've been. Not what you think that somebody else should want it to be.