Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The just-shy-of-whimsical title was kind of an ironic gag in and of itself in F. Scott Fitzgerald's original short story, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," since it was about as far from a fairytale as one could get given the material: A bleak story of alienation and discomfort centered on title character who's born a full-sized, fully-intelligent crotchety old man of 80 and ages backwards, mentally and physically, into and infant - failing at each step to "fit into" the world he's rewinding through.

This expanded, loosely-adapted film from David Fincher keeps the title, but swaps ironic for wholly-appropriate by changing-up the central gimmick: The film's Benjamin (Brad Pitt) is born as a tiny infant but with all of the physical traits (maladies, more specifically) of a near-death 80 year old man and ages "normally" in terms of his mind but in full-reverse in terms of his body - as a "child" he looks for all the world a frail, weathered old man; but as he ages he only gets stronger and better-looking.

The result, as you might expect, is that THIS Benjamin gets a certain number of benefits from his condition - 'old looking' enough to gain access to life experiences and information otherwise not offered to a boy, blessed with the body of a 20 year old with which to put a lifetime of wisdom to use in his waning days. He's less of a tragic walking-commentary and more of a magical being walking backwards through history; and the film is less of the expected allegorical ponderance and more of a biography of a man who can't possibly have existed yet seems to thanks to technical wizardry and damn fine acting from Pitt.

As you've probably heard by now, this one is a real stunner: A thoughtful, ultra high-concept art film doing a spot-on impression of a sweeping middlebrow epic. One imagines that many who see it will enjoy it right off the bat, but only discover later upon reflection just how unique and "different" the film they saw actually was.

It'd be unfair to dwell on the various colorful characters and fascinating times Button finds himself in over the course of his (you'd think) already unique-enough life, as I'd prefer people to discover them on their own. I will single out, however, how refreshing it is to see both Cate Blanchett (as Benjamin's almost-perpetually out-of-reach love interest) and Tilda Swinton - two actresses too-often tasked with playing icy, quasi-masculine hardcases - get to let their hair down as old-fashioned Hollywood glamour-gals.

This is already the surprise-hit of the Holiday season, so I probably don't NEED to tell you... but if you haven't seen this yet, you really should. It's one of the ones we'll be talking about for awhile (though I'm ALREADY dreading the innevitably "fun" the "Epic Movie" guys will have at the expense of the old-man-who-says-he's-a-toddler concept.)


Kristen said...

Loved this movie! The fact that it has nothing to do with Christmas makes it probably the best Christmas movie out there. I'm glad they released it in such a blah time of the year. It reminds you to be grateful for what you have while you have it - exactly what Christmas time is supposed to do, but doesn't. You know?

. said...

I thought it was awful. An exciting premise that went no where. I mean, what was the movie about? Honestly, would anything be different if he just aged normally?