Sunday, December 28, 2008


See the last paragraph for the update-- it validates my inital thoughts on this movie.

If FORREST GUMP was never made, I might have bought into this movie.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is a decent film-- not "amazing" as some critics have decided. To be clear, I am prejudiced by my strong dislike of the aforementioned FORREST GUMP. Both movies cover similar territory- an outcast due to some birth defect (Button born an old "baby", Gump born an idiot) meets the love of his life early in childhood and spends the next few decades making his way through historical events (running into a few notable folks along the way) until finally finding some brief happiness with their woman. Both Forrest Gump and Benjamin Button even find adventures on boats, befriending salty sea cap'ns.

Now, BUTTON is a stronger film in most respects- acting, story, and technical craft. And it's far easier to hear Brad Pitt do a Southern accent than to endure Tom Hanks' semi-moronic drawl. But I couldn't shake my crankiness towards GUMP, despite all of BUTTON's strengths. I felt like the gimmicks were all too familiar, that my (frayed) heartstrings were being tugged on a little too earnestly.

It's a frustrating movie in that respect. There are great elements to BUTTON that could have been explored. Button, who ages in reverse (turning more and more into the real Brad Pitt) is given only slight scrutiny for this fantastic characteristic. Most people either ignore it or just go "Wow, you look good, Benjamin!" Benjamin is kind of a unremarkable guy in all other respects. We don't know what he thinks of things, just that he's in love with his girl Daisy (and Daisy, like Jenny in GUMP, goes through a whore stage that makes Button sad). We never see Button contend with segregation, despite the fact that his adopted mother was black. Nor do we see Button actually deal with a crisis. He just floats through life, meeting colorful characters and becoming rich as a matter of course (like Gump), not through any concerted effort.

Towards the end of BUTTON the worst question one can ask started to creep into my head about this movie- "So what?" Remove the reverse aging gimmick, this is not a particularly compelling story. Sure, Button has to make a tough choice about his life with Daisy at a certain point, but it felt like a coward's decision more than a selfless act on his part. For a movie that kept beating you over the head with the message "Life is precious, embrace what you have while you can" Button makes some pretty dull decisions in his later years (mopping floors, working as a parking garage attendant, becoming a grunge-hippie, etc.).

I admit that I'm being harsh on BUTTON because of its critical acclaim. If there was no Oscar-buzz surrounding this film, and if nobody gave it any attention, I might even say I liked it. But I'm holding this movie to a higher standard because it seeks to be great. Unfortunately, BUTTON apes GUMP too much to be ignored- right down to the use of symbolism (GUMP had the floating feather, BUTTON has a hummingbird that shows up at important moments). If these types of films don't bother you, then I recommend BUTTON. It is a diverting movie-going experience. Otherwise, beware of the overrated "Oscar-begging" taking place here. I just hope SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE weathers the hype surrounding BUTTON and wins all of the awards it deserves (and that would be most of them).

UPDATED: I just read that FORREST GUMP and BENJAMIN BUTTON were scripted by the same guy- Eric Roth. In light of this information, I can comfortably say that I dislike this film. I thought the similarities between the two pictures were too much to take at first, but now... now I'm just pissed off. BUTTON is recycled GUMP.


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