You snooze, you lose

Pub date December 23, 2008
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

May I be permitted to retitle The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as The Mystifying Multimillion-Dollar A-Listing Exercise of Destroying an Intriguing if Minor F . Scott Fitzgerald Short Story with Oscar-Caliber Sentimentality? Much of the puckish humor and curiosity-shop surrealism of the author’s original yarn has been leached from this head-scratching yawn, which enters bearing all the carefully placed bow ties of an Important Film, overflowing with Big Ideas and Meaningful Messages. Still, the turgid understatement of this wide screen parable fails to provoke even the curiosity cued by its title, let alone the dark side of the 20th century’s first youth quake alluded to in the Fitzgerald story.

Benjamin Button‘s pedigreed crew of cooks — director David Fincher (1999’s Fight Club), screenwriter Eric Roth (1994’s Forrest Gump), and Brad Pitt (Brangelina’s testosteroned half) — have warmed up a gooey, glowy sentimental soup, which updates the dark-witted Civil War-set narrative to the Jazz Age and adds an injection of the Moses myth (and 1979’sThe Jerk) by delivering an abandoned infant Button, destined to age backward from a wizened babe to a baby granddaddy, to the arms of doting Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). The cinematic Button undergoes few of Fitzgerald’s sour-to-cruel familial entanglements — making for a somewhat event-free life, which does little to help the narrative. Instead his story seems to climax with the thwarted love between the man-boy and childhood sweetheart-turned-Balanchine-dancer Daisy (Cate Blanchett). For a performer who relies on her looks and physical prowess, what can be worse than watching a pretty-boy lover grow younger and friskier with age? I’d say watching this movie, but that would be mean. After making it through the mostly somnolent stretches of Benjamin Button, the viewer is treated to a few almost imperceptibly surreal and ironic scenes of Blanchett lulling her, er, boy toy to sleep. But the inherent barbed humor seems lost on Fincher and company, who play it straight — into the grave.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON opens Thurs/25 in Bay Area theaters.