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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Not Quite a Fairytale

The notion of youth being wasted on the young is a compelling one, without a doubt. It inspired a famous Mark Twain quote, which in turn inspired an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, which has now lent its name to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film starring Brad Pitt as the title character, born old and destined to die young.

It sounds like a fairytale, and at times, the screen version feels like one, with ethereal flashbacks, eerily spot-on visual effects, and a sweet if improbable romance between Benjamin and his normally-aging love, Daisy (Cate Blanchett). But director David Fincher and screenwriter Eric Roth almost crowd out the movie's central love story with too much stuff — there's a hurricane plot, a daughter learning the truth about her family, and nearly an hour of Benjamin's wacky adventures. Instead of enveloping the audience in a mystical story, it fights against its narrative, constantly breaking its own spell. Yet there are reasons to watch Benjamin Button even when it feels like work, so to see the rest of my thoughts, just


Though it doesn't fully kick in till almost halfway through the movie, the relationship between Benjamin and Daisy is worth the price of admission. They're sweet as children (Daisy young, Benjamin physically decrepit) and as 20-somethings (Daisy cool and sophisticated, Benjamin finally starting to look like Brad Pitt), but it's when they meet in the middle, in their 40s, that their love story takes over the film. They don't have much time as equals, and that lends an urgency to their relationship that the rest of the movie lacks. Pitt rightfully gets praised for his work as Benjamin, but Blanchett should get more credit for her performance; unlike Pitt, she doesn't have a voiceover to guide her through the story, but she's a strong enough actress to show Daisy's emotions even without the luxury of explaining them.

It's a shame that Fincher and Roth couldn't trust that story to work on its own, because with that relationship at the center — and maybe with some deeper musings from Benjamin on what it means to be living his life this way — the movie could have been a masterpiece. Instead, it feels emotionally remote and over-cluttered, with a structure reminiscent of both Forrest Gump (for which Roth was also the screenwriter) and Titanic. The early scenes with Benjamin growing up in a New Orleans retirement home are strong — and Taraji P. Henson is outstanding as Queenie, the mother figure who discovers Benjamin abandoned on her stoop and raises him as her own — but once Benjamin leaves home and joins a tugboat crew, the movie drags. It doesn't help that the flashbacks are intercut with scenes of a dying Daisy in the hospital; that plotline never really hits its stride emotionally and mostly just feels detached. And a few references to Hurricane Katrina permanently anchor the movie in a particular era, which feels at odds with its more timeless qualities.

Luckily, just when Benjamin Button starts to feel aimless, the love story takes center stage — and, with that, the movie builds some momentum to reach a satisfying enough end. The special effects are also remarkable (and it's a good thing, because when you're talking about aging Brad Pitt's face and putting it on someone else's body, doing it poorly would be disastrous); I'd be shocked if Benjamin Button doesn't end up in contention for all kinds of visual effects and makeup Oscars. It will probably be a Best Picture contender, too, but I'm less convinced that it's deserving of that honor; as good as it is in parts, Benjamin Button ends up falling short of what it could have been.

Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Join The Conversation
TidalWave TidalWave 8 years
I feel the complete opposite as BuzzSugar. I was extremely interested in his life growing up, and his life dying; but was so so so so so bored by the mundane love story. There was absolutely nothing interesting there in the least. I'd highly recommend watching this on DVD. Also, the similarities to Forrest Gump were way too strong
Edie-J-Blige Edie-J-Blige 8 years
I think the review of this movie was too harsh. I found it a beautiful, poetic, and tragic love story, that was such a breath of fresh air from the typical hollywood endings of they get married and live happily ever after. They loved each other so much and were together in the end, and Benjamin's life story felt life-like and real, with all the people he cared about having a great weight on the story. I thought it was charming.
pinkcheerio pinkcheerio 8 years
This film was really dull and WAY too long. So overrated
ebgirl ebgirl 8 years
I'm in the minority, as usual - I did NOT enjoy this film, but I'm not a huge fan of Brad Pitt either. It was an hour too long in my opinion and I never felt attached enough to the characters. I really enjoyed the cinematography, makeup, and special effects, and I love Cate Blanchett in anything, but this movie just didn't stick with me after I left the theater. I agree that it is a Forrest Gump wannabe, but didn't have the same charm as FG. Taraji P. Henson was great as well. I went with several members of my family, and none of us (aged 21-50) were overly impressed with the film. I think Buzz's review is pretty spot-on.
californiagirlx7 californiagirlx7 8 years
I just saw this movie tonight and it was great. I loved it. Brad was wonderful in it...and I don't typically praise his acting abilities. Taraji P. Henson was also incredible. To be honest, I don't think it was Cate Blanchett's best work but she was still great. The story was very compelling, it reminded me of Forrest Gump and Big Fish (two movies that I love). Younger Brad and Younger Cate were so gorgeous - the make-up and special effects were excellent. The only negative aspects of the movie to me were that 1.) it was a bit cluttered (2.) Could do without the Hurricane Katrina storyline (3.) the voice-overs were odd. Elle Fanning did not sound like a child when she spoke, she sounded like an adult. And there were some other weird voice-overs...Brad Pitt's "old-man speak" faded in and out at times. P.S. Shiloh was in the scene where Brad is holding her on his lap watching the balloon fly away, right? That's the only scene I spotted her in, the other babies playing Caroline didn't look like her.
Renees3 Renees3 8 years
I thought this was SUCH an awesome movie. Everyone coming out of the theater was saying how wonderful it was. I do agree that the hurrican storyline I could've done without, but overall I LOVED it
joanna33t joanna33t 8 years
Glad to hear that so many people liked it, but I heard this movie was a "poor man's" Forest Gump and many reviews I've read seem to describe it as exactly that. I'll add it to the "rent it" list!
higgydt4 higgydt4 8 years
If I had to see just one movie over and over for the next 5 years, it would be this one. It was probably one of the greatest movies I have ever seen.
Ginger Ginger 8 years
I agree Kate looked stunning. And Brad. Those were some the most beautiful images I have ever seen of either of them. But the movie is so much more than just pretty images. Of all the holiday films, I can wait for Netflix on the others, but am glad to have seen this in the theater.
jeneeena jeneeena 8 years
i think i should watch this one...or should i really do??
spacebear spacebear 8 years
i have to agree with buzz. there's too much focus on minor characters that i didn't care about... ex. i wanted to see more of the old woman who he says made a huge impact on his life. the voices were weird throughout the movie (little Daisy, old Benjamin). it was good but i think with editing it couldv'e been a lot better. OH and i don't think anyone mentioned how beautiful "young" Cate Blanchett it and how HOT Brad Pitt looks when Benjamin is young. I think my mom and I both sighed when he first appeared young.
gummybears123 gummybears123 8 years
I liked the movie overall. I loved seeing Benjamin as an old man learning about life. But I didn't like the scenes in the hospital room. They took you away from the story I thought. And I'm not sure how necessary having Katrina in the movie was.
reesiecup reesiecup 8 years
I thought the movie was deeply moving and visually stunning. I loved how Roth decided to take liberties with Fitzgerald's short story, creating new characters and fleshing out Benjamin's experiences. Brad really deserves an Oscar nomination. Kate was wonderful, as usual, so I guess that's why she got overlooked for the Golden Globe nom ;) I agree that some of the movie was a bit cluttered (and longer than I had anticipated), but the theme of the movie really stuck with me, 2 days after watching it. That's when you know it's a great movie!
Linda-McP Linda-McP 8 years
Of course the review is valid. While many of us may disagree with the conclusion that it's not "the" best movie of the year, I find that the review is balanced and supported. In the end, it gets a three-plus star rating, so I don't think Buzz exactly hated the film. I'm one who loves to read reviews of all sorts, but will still see a film regardless of the critical raves or pans it gets. I'm enjoying reading the commentary from those who really loved the film, but as I said above, a "B+" rating from Buzz seems fairly positive to me. I'm looking forward to seeing BB as soon as it opens in our local theater, which unfortunately, may be many weeks away.
liliblu liliblu 8 years
This is one of the few films I have been excited about in a long time. I rarely go to the movies anymore. But I have plans to see this one next weekend with friends. Everyone I know who has seen the film, loved it.
Lukin Lukin 8 years
Quite honestly, if David Fincher directed a film of grass growing, I'd go see it, and chances are, it would be excellent. I haven't seen Benjamin Button yet, but I'm excited to. Even if this review is valid, it's nice to see Fincher FINALLY get his due as a director. In my opinion, he is incredibly underrated and incredibly talented at what he does.
Ginger Ginger 8 years
I thought the film was beautifully made and well paced. The worse the review on this site, the more likely it seems I'll like the movie. In my own travels, the people who most enjoyed this film found it touching on a deeper emotional level, as a whole. If you just want a trite romance then this review might ring true to you. FYI, Legends of the Fall came from a short story too.
berrypeachie berrypeachie 8 years
It looks artfully done, but I'm not sure of the story line after reading the whole story for myself. I personally find the written story by Fitzgerald less romantic. I have to see the movie for myself though. :]
Frank-y-Ava Frank-y-Ava 8 years
I still haven't seen this movie and I still want to see this movie.
ceej ceej 8 years
I must disagree with you. I think this is a masterful film and mostly because of Fincher, another director may have created another Forrest Gump, which I'm not that keen on but this is an adult fable with no mawkish sentimentality. I saw this yesterday and have been pondering on it ever since. The simplicity of the story telling and the wonderful, centred acting is the key here. Truly intelligent film making. I found it so strange that you didn't relate to this and yet loved Australia which in my mind tries so hard to be memorable and in the end is anything but.
Linda-McP Linda-McP 8 years
Thanks for the honest review, Buzz. I'm looking forward to seeing this, if only for the visual effects. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised, but I honestly haven't been expecting this to be my favorite movie of the year, so three and a half stars seems pretty positive!
Leanne1078 Leanne1078 8 years
krae--you do realize that many movies started out as short stories...Shawshank Redemption anyone???
krae85 krae85 8 years
short stories don't make great films, ta-da.
nessa17 nessa17 8 years
i saw this on christmas day and i loved it!
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