Based loosely on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald (of The Great Gatsby fame), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button may be overly long, but it turns out to be a beautiful experience nonetheless. Most Oscar-watchers will know the premise of the story – the life and times of a man who ages backwards – but this does not do justice to the gorgeous, occasionally touching journey that Curious Case presents.
The film’s story is told by Benjamin’s lifelong love interest, Daisy (Blanchett) , who, on her deathbed, gives Benjamin’s diaries to her daughter to read aloud. Every now and then the film cuts to the mother/daughter pair in the hospital ward, where Daisy will clarify a plot point or give us some insight onto her feelings about the previous scene. The problem with this dynamic is that this entire sub-plot is almost completely unnecessary, and adds little to the real meat and potatoes of the main plot: Benjamin’s autobiography.
We follow Benjamin through his birth as an arthritic, seemingly deformed infant, his ‘childhood’ as an old man, his entry into the Second World War as an aged rookie and finally to his life with Daisy, which, of course, is complicated by the fact that he is getting younger as she gets older.
Most of the trials that Benjamin faces as a child with an old man’s body are strangely believable, and his naivety and misunderstanding of his existence manage to give a physically ugly character great charm.
It is only in his late (early?) years that he makes some profoundly stupid, yet justifiable decisions that sway him away from the audience’s total favour. It’s the first time Brad Pitt has really acted since 12 Monkeys, and it’s a fantastic change to see him actually playing a character with range.
Blanchet does a satisfactory job, but considering she’s technically the main character, you’d think she’d inspire a bit more sympathy from the audience in her final moments. But throughout the film, she ultimately ends up as little more than a prop for Benjamin to fawn over and it’s difficult to empathise with her.
The best part of the movie by far is the special effects and the cinematography that highlights them; especially the first time we see Cate Blanchett made to look 18 again. It’s not uncommon to see actors made to look older, especially with Hollywood make-up, but succeeding at making an actor look younger takes genuine effort. Watching 24 year old Daisy, a graceful ballerina in her New York debut is one of the most technically impressive scenes throughout all of the films of 2008.
By the time we see a young Brad Pitt towards the end of the film, it’s not surprising to be jaded by the effects, but that doesn’t make them any less astounding.
However, despite being such a visually impressive film, the plot starts to degrade fairly quickly after the two hour mark. The fact is, Benjamin’s life starts off with a bang, and ends with a whimper. Even though the movie manages to be engrossing through its two and a half hour run (unlike Director David Fincher’s last overly long effort: Zodiac), it really feels like the cinematic equivalent of ‘blue balls’. It’s difficult not to enjoy the film and its visual triumphs, but after 120 minutes, you expect a climax.
The weak ending-monologue feels tired, clichÃ©d and can be summarised into three words: “Nothing ever lasts”. Not exactly the most profound food for thought, especially after we’ve been presented with far more interesting existential conundrums by Benjamin himself.
It’s a shame that such a technically stunning film is bogged down by lame plot points, but if you want to feast your eyes on a great-looking cast and even more beautiful looking sets, Benjamin Button will certainly be up your alley.