#19/36 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
I waited until after the nominees were announced to see this film. I had a screener copy, but wanted to see it large on the big screen so I waited to see if it would get nominated for Best Picture before I watched the screener. That way, I knew I’d see it in the Best Picture Showcase as well and get a chance to see its beauty the way it was meant to be seen.
Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born with a curious defect- he ages backwards. He begins life as a man “well into his 80’s” and proceeds to get younger with each passing year. He is raised and loved by his adoptive mother Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) in a retirement home. There he meets Daisy (the elder version is played by Cate Blanchett), the granddaughter of one of the tenants whom he falls in love with.
I recognize that this film is a unique and beautiful love story. I recognize that all the elements of this film are astounding- the effects, makeup, costumes, etc. That being said, I just couldn’t love it. I didn’t hate it, or even strongly dislike it, but I was expecting so much more. First of all, the film is obscenely long. Why is it obscenely long? Because it has several completely unnecessary story lines. It begins with a story about a clock that a man made to run backwards. Is this supposed to be why Benjamin ages backwards? I believe it’s simply to set the tone of the film and to remind us that Benjamin is aging backwards (sometimes the line, “All the while, that clock kept on running backwards” is thrown in to remind us that nothing has changed), which is completely unnecessary as several times Benjamin as a narrator utters “While everyone was getting older, I kept getting younger,” as if you couldn’t tell by his looks alone. In fact the only reason it seems to me that they made that story about the clock running backwards was to have a shot of the soldiers at war running backwards to put in the trailer.
Second, the film is narrated by Benjamin as a woman reads his journal to her dying mother, a device that I actually enjoyed. However, I’m not sure it was necessary for the hospital in which the mother and child are in be threatened by an oncoming hurricane, a hurricane that is revealed to be Hurricane Katrina. I don’t know if that was intended to give an idea of time frame, but if so they mention dates throughout the film and was therefore completely unnecessary. It’s all complete excess and should be on the cutting room floor. And speaking of the cutting room floor, the film was obviously paired down several times and some of its subplots lack polish as a result. Benjamin meets a pygmy early on and is fascinated by him, but when he says goodbye to him and is distraught, we feel nothing. They’ve hardly shown Benjamin spend more than a minute or two with this man and therefore I couldn’t feel sorry when he leaves. Also, there is a gimmick about a man who got struck by lightening seven times. Throughout the film we see these moments, only I’ve seen the film twice now and have only counted six times.
Finally, I really believe myself incapable of fully enjoying this film for one important reason- I spend the entire time over thinking. Every time a year is presented, an age given, or Benjamin is shown to look younger, I find myself calculating how old he actually is and how old his body is. And the worst part is that I never come to a conclusion. As they don’t give a very good starting point, and hardly ever give his actual age, I find myself constantly annoyed trying to figure out what stage he is at in his life, a fact that I felt should be made obvious rather than keeping us guessing. Other than the age difference affecting his relationship with Daisy, it really has no impact on his life. There could have been so many places that the unique idea of aging backwards could have been taken, but Fincher just doesn’t go there.
I think the Academy felt compelled to nominate this film for so many awards based on very few things: an amazing trailer, a unique idea, and an incredibly long production that has had this film on Hollywood’s radar for years. Having seen it, twice now, I can’t even begin to imagine why this is here in place of The Wrestler.
Best Director – David Fincher
The same goes for you, Fincher. Aronofsky deserved this spot.
Best Actor – Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt is a great actor and while I don’t think he’s particularly exceptional in this, I’ll accept that they are honoring his career with this nomination.
Best Supporting Actress – Taraji P. Henson
She turns in a very real and raw performance here and is one of few enjoyable things in this film, but like Viola Davis, her early buzz for the role has fizzled. I don’t think she’ll be taking this award home.
Best Adapted Screenplay
I’ve read the short story that this film is based and there are little to no similarities. I don’t think that adapting a 3 page story into a 3 hour long film warrants an award.
This film really is shot beautifully, but Slumdog was a better movie all around and its unique cinematography will likely take this home.
I hate that this is here. Any other film this year would have deserved this spot over this one. The pacing is terrible, the film is too long, and what little was cut out shows. I think this nomination is despicable.
Best Art Direction
Once again, this film is beautiful and I think it stands a real chance at this award. It’s possible that something like Changeling or The Dark Knight could take it, but it is a real contender here.
Best Costume Design
The costumes are beautiful- Daisy wears a red dress that absolutely pops against the darkness of New Orleans at night. She dances in silhouette while it rustles in the wind. It’s a beautiful image. However, I think the Academy will favor The Duchess’ rich period dresses here.
Again, this is a serious contender, but it’s hard to tell how much of the aging is make up and how much is visual effects. That could hurt its chances.
The score is beautiful, but forgettable. It won’t take this award home.
This nomination is a good one- I actually noticed how much the sound popped while seeing it a second time- but I think a large scale action flick will take this home instead.
Best Visual Effects
I’m so torn on this award. Like the make up nomination, I have to wonder how much of the effects are practical and how much are computer generated. The computer aging certainly shows on Cate Blanchett’s face- I don’t think the young version of Daisy looks very real at all. However the very old Brad Pitt may be enough to cinch this win.