ReelTalk Movie Reviews  

New Reviews
Jurassic World Domini...
Jazz Fest: A New Orle...
Chip 'n Dale: Rescue ...
more movies...
New Features
Poet Laureate of the Movies
Happy Birthday, Mel Brooks
Score Season #71
more features...
ReelTalk Home Page
Contact Us
Advertise on ReelTalk

Listen to Movie Addict Headquarters on internet talk radio Add to iTunes

Buy a copy of Confessions of a Movie Addict

Main Page Movies Features Log In/Manage

Rate This Movie
 Above AverageAbove AverageAbove AverageAbove Average
 Below AverageBelow Average
Rated 2.98 stars
by 399 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Meeting in the Middle
by Jeffrey Chen

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a lovely fantasy epic along the lines of Forrest Gump and Big Fish, is primarily a love story, which seems rather odd given its director, David Fincher. His strongest work finds him charting the male psyche, from the emasculation-phobia of Generation X in Fight Club to the obsessive puzzle-solving quests of Zodiac. He has been somewhat less successful when dealing with female protagonists -- Alien3 had its share of creative troubles, and Panic Room didn't go far beyond being entertaining (and, frankly, its male villains had the more interesting psychologies). Benjamin Button therefore provides an intriguing experiment involving  male and female lead characters who are near-equals. Almost expectedly, the results are satisfying if not necessarily transcendent.

Much of what helps Benjamin Button is its vastness, covering a span of about 90 years and utilizing a variety of locations and cinematic flourishes. Fincher makes this story of a man who's born old-looking but then ages in reverse a lovely journey to experience, with places and events full of wonder, and fascination being its main source of fuel. Bookended by scenes of the present, where a daughter (Julia Ormond) reads the diary of Benjamin to her dying mother, the tale is revealed in flashbacks, with the flashbacks within the flashbacks told with an old-style grainy look. Use of visual obscuring employing light, color, and stock, serves a dual role, one being style and the other technical as it allows various actors' faces to better match each other at different ages. Special effects are also used, of course -- Button's adult-aged version is played by Brad Pitt, but features of his face appear on his younger-aged old-looking versions, played by a variety of different actors. And, of course, all of these effects are paramount in making the aging of Pitt and Cate Blanchett (portraying main love interest Daisy) themselves believable. Fincher and his team make what must've been a huge technical challenge play like magic.

The movie depicts the summation of life as a series of moments defined by their timing. Most people take a lifetime to appreciate this, and some may never learn it, but Benjamin Button gets a jump start on observing this since he's born looking like a shrunken old man. Fortuitously, as a baby, he is abandoned on the steps of a rest home run by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), who lovingly adopts him, so as he grows up he fits right in with the population of senior citizens. "Disguised" as he is, the folks who move in talk to him as if he were their peer; they reveal that the strongest parts of their personalities are the ones to have survived long life -- thus, one's love of opera, another's devotion to piano, and, most humorously, one's fixation on having been struck by lightning many times over. Thus, Benjamin is ahead of the game on the idea of gathering experiences.

Had the story stayed strictly on this route, it could have been an exploration of how a man willfully defines himself through his adventures, but the movie has a more particular goal in mind, which is to unite Benjamin with a true love. Thus, most of his adventures are to fill him with the necessary knowledge and experience to make him emotionally ready to be Daisy's soulmate lover. They meet at a very early age, while he is very wrinkly and she's a little kid, and they run into each other continuously while neither of them are quite ready for each other. The overall effect shows that, no matter how well they may be matched for each other, stars still have to align and timing is everything. As Daisy eventually says, the two characters, one aging normally and the other aging backward, end up meeting in the middle, thus making Benjamin's peculiarity mainly a visual and metaphoric device for the elusive appropriateness of romantic timing.

It's a lovely idea that nonetheless comes with nicks and dents, as, given the arc of the story, the movie effectively climaxes in the middle as well, or, to put it another way, it feels like it's over before it starts to end. Also, Benjamin ends up being the least colorful of this great cast of characters of friends, relatives, and lovers, despite his odd condition. He becomes something of a blank slate, perhaps a by-product of his gentle and patient personality, but just the same he winds up a cipher to the events that happen around him (his biggest decisions involve leaving or coming back to places). This becomes more evident later in the film when it switches its focus, becoming less and less about him and more and more about Daisy. So how do you like that? Benjamin is character-developed in reverse too.

A Fincher male lacking psychological complexity? Perhaps it's a chance to give that color to the lead female, Daisy, but for her own ambitions and dreams, she still becomes someone who reacts to Benjamin and is ultimately defined by him and her relation to him. Fincher's journey into the nature of romance is thoughtful, but his ideas about how any one person's life is summed up is more heartfelt, more bittersweet. Whatever the movie's concerns are, Fincher mainly succeeds in making Benjamin Button charming, a ride as gentle and whimsical as its protagonist, a technical triumph backing, yes, a curious narrative.

(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG-13" for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking.)

Review also posted at

© 2024 - ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Website designed by Dot Pitch Studios, LLC