Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

Warning: This is going to contain spoilers. Probably quite a few of them (I don't really know. I'm writing this disclaimer before the actual review). You should still read it, because it's WAY shorter than the movie. Also better.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has been nominated for something along the lines of 968,000 Academy Awards this year. It is also not technically a good movie. Don't get me wrong. It tries hard, and has a very interesting premise (If you really haven't been paying attention (Not to what I've written so far. To other sources. Which pale in comparison to me), said premise is that the titular character is born at the end of his life and ages backwards). Unfortunately, it fails to translate these into an entertaining (Or thought-provoking) film. And unlike the film, I will start at the beginning. Maybe (Probably not).

As has been pointed out to me, it is hard to encapsulate an entire life in a film, which is the ambitious undertaking David Fincher (Director of Fight Club and Seven, among others) has tried here. However, he totally undercuts his efforts in this regard with the framework he gives the story. Rather than just telling the story straight-up, he has chosen to have it related through a diary (That of the titular character), being read to a dying elderly woman in the hospital by her daughter. This adds absolutely nothing to the film, and wastes at least a half-hour that could have been better-spent with relevant characters. Anytime the film cuts back to the hospital it is jarring, as this breaks up the storyline and returns the viewer to two characters whom there is absolutely nothing to care about. Sooner or later you inevitably begin to root for the death of the older woman, as that might end these scenes forever. And did I mention that these are set in a hospital in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina bears down? No? Well, it's okay because this setting is never used for anything at all and is completely irrelevant. The only possible reason for choosing it is a thought process resembling that is the following: "Hmmmmmm. Hurricane Katrina was sad. Many people died, and/or lost their homes and possessions. We're making a sad, serious film. Maybe if we tie it to Katrina in some thoroughly irrelevant way, we'll get some kind of spillover sadness. Brilliant!" And the having it set up around an older woman's memories? Yeah, Titanic won lots of Oscars. Therefore we shall ape it's style. This is absolutely atrocious filmmaking, and nearly unforgivable. And we haven't even gotten to the film itself yet (I refuse to consider this extraneous garbage a part of the film, even though it takes up nearly 20% of the running time (All numbers based solely on personal estimates/guesses))! Oh boy (This is such an officially-written review right here. I tell you)!

Moving on to the actual central narrative of the film (Ideally without giving away all that much), we find that it centers around two characters who, conveniently enough, are love interests for each other. And the movie attempts to use the fact that they are aging in seperate directions to make the point that nothing stays the same (It gets rather heavy-handed in trying to hammer this home occasionally), but the joke here that Fincher isn't in on is that he does not really characterize either Blanchett or Pitt, meaning that we are stuck staring at these static, unchanging people as the backgrounds spin around them. The only real interesting possibility that we are left with, as the film plods along toward the conclusion, is that we have a chance to see someone offer up their answer to the eternal question posed so well through music at the end of (Certainly not this film) Rushmore; namely, I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger. However, determined to not even leave us on this potentially minimally-satisfyling result, Fincher cheats the audience one final time by giving Pitt's character approximately 3 minutes of screen time for the last 20 years of his life, during most of which he has been struck with Alzheimer's.

So what are we left with? The movie itself seems to think it is dealing with deep, eternal questions, but instead it leaves the viewer with more than they started with. By way of example, throughout the film, set primarily in the city of New Orleans, some of the characters often go to sit and watch the sun rise outside a house next to a large body of water out in the country, with no other dwellings in sight. No one ever mentions this place when they are not there. Where is it, and where did it come from? Who knows? Certainly not the moviegoer, left fighting various limbs falling asleep by this point of the movie. There is no real style to the movie. Fincher often attempts to portray it as a period piece, and in large part succeeds visually. As the decades pass, the film follows the general style of Hollywood portrayal of each. However, touching on everything really does not count as coming up with something distinctive, and it feels like a mess of a stylistic mish-mash/mismatch. The actors and actresses seem like they are trying, but the static characters offer nothing to care about. The script tries to provoke thought, but only arouses ire. For a movie that tries so hard to be Important, what Benjamin Button achieves in the end is only to be both interminable and intolerable.

1 comment:

your mom said...

Is David Fincher the man I talk to about getting the 2 hours I wasted watching "Fight Club" back? Nice review; excellent use of sarcasm when called for (and sometimes when not, I suspect)!