Posted by: Eddie | December 14, 2009

The Obvious Case of Benjamin Button

I just watched ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ on On-Demand. It felt like an art house movie for beginners.  If you’re not sure what the scene is about, you have his narration to tell you.  If that doesn’t suffice, then obvious dialogue will do.  The story of a man who is born old and grows younger as his life passes is intriguing, but it’s more challenging possibilities are ignored.

The cinematography is also heavy handed, with overused sepia tone in the early scenes letting you know you’re in the far past, and character’s memories sometimes playing out like silent movies, as with the man who occasionally recounts being struck by lightning, and then a mildly comic snippet is shown.

Having said that, some of the scenes are pretty, and Taraji P. Henson is especially enjoyable as Queenie, the woman who raises Benjamin after his family abandons him.  I’ve always found Brad Pitt just a touch stiff, but his style works well for this character.  Cate Blanchett  is lovely, and most of the cast does a fine job with their characters who can lean towards the stereotypical (the hard-drinking sea captain etc.)

The special effects are a bit distracting in the beginning, and more than a little creepy, but the “young” Benjamin is nevertheless oddly appealing.  Cate Blanchett’s makeup when she’s lying in bed dying also pulls you out of the moment, but not terribly so.

The movie’s themes of death, fate, and gracefully coping with them are fundamental and compelling, and easy targets for the movie to set its sights on.  The idea of what it is like internally for the backwards-aging Benjamin could be fascinating, but the movie strangely shies away from exploring them in any depth.  We only get the obvious notes that you could come up with in a few minutes of consideration.

In the end, having Benjamin suffer from dementia while in a child’s body dodges the chance to explore what it would be like to experience the world in a very young body but with nearly a lifetime of experience behind you.  It feels like a cheat that he just acts confused and senile.  This opportunity for fresh insight is completely wasted.

These missed moments keep Benjamin Button from being more than an interesting note in a particular year’s movies.  A talented cast, budget that could make fantastic scenes possible, and it’s all put in the service of  an imaginative storyline that is traversed in a very unimaginative way.  It’s worth watching, but don’t expect anything particularly profound and you won’t be disappointed.  A sweet, gentle, at times lovely movie that is sadly soothing without shedding any light other than a sepia-toned wistfulness.

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