“I hope I die before I get old.” – The Who
The only curiosity in question in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is how filmmakers can adapt a 32 page short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, about a man who is born old and ages backwards, into an epic 3 hour movie. Perhaps David Fincher, who may be one of the few directors to successfully (unlike Lucas) dazzle and revolutionize Hollywood’s new digital technology, and Eric Roth, who may be sadly responsible for teaching most of us our pop culture history through Forrest Gump, got too caught up in their own acclaimed reputations as they ditch F. Scott’s fable tacking on only his name for credibility and protection from plagiarism as they rewrite the “precious” life of Benjamin Button.
Though Fincher succeeds in a beautiful technically shot fable he fails in constructing a plot with the help of Eric Roth’s famous Gump motifs and overdone flashbacks as we are constantly drawn back to a current day hospital room of some old dying hag reading Benjamin’s diary, who’s voiceover makes Forrest’s sound like a rambling auctioneer’s. With this implementation of reality (along with modern setting of Hurricane Katrina looming) one is drawn away from this quirky fairytale. The film quickly loses F. Scott’s touch as it turns into a rather banal love story of how Old Man Ben (Brad Pitt) and Little Daisy (Cate Blanchett) fall in love and cross paths in the middle of both their aging process so that it’s neither misconstrued as pedophilia or oedipal. But before they finally do shag and settle down on Revolutionary Road we follow Benjamin growing up in New Orleans in the early 20th century, fittingly at an old age home, brought up by his adopted Mother, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). However this tale doesn’t get going till he goes off to sea on a tugboat (not to catch shrimp) that we are introduced with a new engaging cast of characters. It’s also during this time on shore leave Benjamin takes the old skin boat to tuna town with lonely, Elizabeth Abbot (Tilda Swinton). While this affair is short-lived, Tilda succeeds in playing her first likeable role as an unhappily married woman who senses something of a kindred young spirit in Benjamin as she spoils him with caviar and a nightly nightcap with no strings attached.
It’s only when Daisy is reintroduced as some beatnik skanky dancer whose every whim is catered to by Benjamin that Fincher and Roth’s tale turns into a full on drama as F. Scott’s humor of a backwards life from old Pops’ Wingman to a College football Jock raised by his (Benjamin’s) own Son is lost in the adaptation. Cate Blanchett reprises her Kate Hepburn attitude and inflections as she views herself to be the greatest modern day actress (ironically this was all Hepburn had to do as well) but only prevails in looking like an arrogant bitch with too tight of a face. Pitt’s character is also lost as he leaves the love of his life fearing his youth will taint his ability to act as a father – allowing for the first time his malady to control his life when we all know, as does F. Scott, it would of been cougar Cate’s constant desire to be in the spotlight that would chase Benjamin away. More useless plot time is then used up as Benjamin does some soul searching like Caine in Kung Fu and just walks the earth thereby giving Fincher an excuse to show off pretty images in exotic locations.
“My Momma always said, “life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”‘ – Forrest Gump
Except in this case we do because in the end the minute you are born you are one day closer to death and this holds true for this story as well so what’s the point? Even in Benjamin’s youth he is plagued with a case of Alzheimer’s but what’s really ironic is hopefully I can skip all that and leave before the final curtain falls in the sanctum of a cozy dark theater, the only refuge in this absurd world – almost like this fellow moviegoer. The Real Curious Case