Montreal Film Journal


Who ever thought it was a good idea to make David Fincher's "Forrest Gump"? No offense to Fincher - I wouldn't want to see Robert Zemeckis' "Se7en" either. My point is simply that I've rarely come across a movie where the aesthetic sensibilities of the director were so wrong for the material. Whereas "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" calls for whimsy, wonder and heart, Fincher's style is dark, cold, bleak. Bad fit.

Then again, even if Zemeckis had been at the helm, the movie might still not have worked. The way Eric Roth rehashes his "Gump" screenplay is really a mixed blessing. The idea of a protagonist who goes through life with a different, unusual point of view (simple-mindedness then, aging backwards here) remains potent, as does the way said protagonist spends nearly all his years loving an elusive girl whom he never quite seems to cross paths with at the right moment.

But at times, Roth goes back to the "Gump" well in ways that are distractingly obvious. For instance, Button grows up in a big house full of people in the South (specifically a Louisiana old folks home, as opposed to the Alabama boarding house in "Forrest Gump"), with a caring mama (Taraji P. Henson) who keeps telling him that "you never know what's coming for you". Life's like a box of chocolates, right?

One notable difference is that, instead of having the protagonist sitting at a bus stop telling his story to strangers, the film uses one of the framing devices I personally am the most tired of: an actor with a face full of old-age latex makeup who looks back at his/her life. In this case, it's Cate Blanchett on her deathbed, asking her daughter to read an old diary aloud to her (shades of "The Notebook" there, too). Oh, and for a reason I can't fathom, all of this happens on the day hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Huh?

Anyway, the diary belonged to Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), who was born an old man but found himself growing younger each day. In love with Blanchett's Daisy since the first day they met, when they were both kids but only she actually looked like it, he would keep pining for her all his life, even though she never seemed ready to open herself up to him... So he worked on a boat and went to war with Lieutenant Dan, I mean, Captain Mike (Jared Harris), had an affair in Russia with an English woman (Tilda Swinton) and...

I'm getting a bit lost here, but so does the film, until Daisy has grown older and Benjamin has grown younger so that they're almost the same age, and they get to be happy for a while. But eventually, they're at different places again, and the movie gets lost again, clumsily, painfully making its way towards an unbelievably abrupt and random ending.

At best, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is hit and miss. I liked the early scenes with the old/young Benjamin, and some of the moments with Daisy are touching... But around those parts, there are some two more hours of loose ends, derivative beats, half-assed ideas... And, going back to my original point, while Fincher's skill behind the camera is undeniable, he didn't seem to know what to make with this material which, while flawed already, might have worked better in other hands.