(No longer in theaters)
Drama, Romance, SciFi/Fantasy
Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, Ceán Chaffin
Dec 25, 2008
The protagonist of the leisurely romantic fable The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is born old and wrinkled and ages backward, which means we spend an hour and a half waiting eagerly for Brad Pitt to look like Brad Pitt—i.e., superhumanly pretty—and the next hour and change thinking, Is that all there is? Not much goes on in that face, and Pitt’s resemblance to Robert Redford—pouchy cheeks, quizzical half-open mouth—tends to underscore what’s absent. Redford in his prime was alert and prickly, perpetually dissatisfied, whereas Pitt exudes complacency. As Benjamin, whose heavily symbolic malady has something to do with a supernatural clock designed by a grieving father to move in reverse, he gives you no hint what his character makes of the changes. He doesn’t bring out the tension between mind and body; he just stares ahead with sad eyes and lets his makeup do the acting. Pitt isn’t bad (his noncommittal performance might even appeal to some people, who can project on him what they will), but he lets opportunities slide that other, physically inventive performers would kill for.
The movie, directed by David Fincher, will probably be a hit anyway, because the gimmick (adapted by Eric Roth from an F. Scott Fitzgerald story) is fun to play around with in your head, and because it’s liberating to watch makeup gradually come off an actor instead of getting thicker (and phonier). Fitzgerald spent the later years of his life haunted by the profligacy of his early ones; to reverse time and recover his youthful body and stamina but retain his aged wisdom must have been a blessed pipe dream. Fincher is no humanist (his most vivid film is the clammy, clinical Se7en), and he refrains from milking the material for sentiment—which means the movie isn’t mawkish, but it isn’t especially vivid either. The light is yellowish and diffuse, the backdrops—the clock, a factory wall, the side of a ship—oversize. It’s a gentle expressionism, redolent of death without rattling bones.
Fitzgerald’s alter-ego finds his Zelda—called, aptly enough, Daisy—when she visits the convalescent home where his horrified father abandoned him. She grows up to be Cate Blanchett, whose face is uncannily ivory-smooth. When Daisy and Benjamin meet in the middle, both at the peak of their physical perfection, they’re like two Greek statues basking in each other’s radiance, albeit with dialogue that knocks them down a few pegs: “I was thinkin’ that nothing lasts, and what a shame that is.” As they move toward death, one in the direction of infancy and dirty diapers and the other toward old age and osteoporosis, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button attains a level of quiet grace. It’s too bad that I can barely remember the movie after only a week. Nothing lasts, indeed.