A review of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for brief violence, sexual content and language

Run Time: 2 hours, 47 minutes

 

 

Edgy auteur David Fincher (“Fight Club”) puts imagination to the test in this sentimental fantasy that packs a visual punch.

In early century Louisiana an unusual child is born on an unusual day – the day that a local watchmaker unveils a backwards moving clock to signify sadness over a painful personal loss. The baby looks like a wizened old man and isn’t expected to live.

With the persistent nurturing of boarding house doyenne Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) -- who found the abandoned child on her doorstep – baby Benjamin beats the odds and continues to thrive, so well that he appears to grow younger as he advances in years.

In whimsical “Amelie” fashion Fincher and screenwriter Eric Roth (who based “Button” on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1921 short story of the same name) skew heavily to mortality and fate and the way we are touched by those we meet along the way.

To that end Benjamin’s meeting with 7-year old Daisy (Elle Fanning) has a profound effect on his life, her presence a stabilizing force that ebbs and flows throughout the years. Benjamin and the adult Daisy (Cate Blanchett) inexplicably meet halfway on the age spectrum – on her way to the graceful golden years and his to ultimate youth – a joyous and profoundly sad state of affairs.

There’s a lilting loveliness to the lives and loves of this beguiling man-child – a tour of duty on a hardscrabble tugboat that doesn’t really work (too long), a passionate romance with a “plain as paper” ambassador’s wife (Tilda Swinton) that does. The core theme is you never know what’s coming, applicable to every facet of the capable and clever narrative.

“Button” wouldn’t be the success it is without the abundant gifts of Pitt and Blanchett who are asked to inherit the subtleties of childhood to old age without missing a beat. With the help of some eye-popping technology (Pitt’s wrinkled face on a Gollum-like body) and astounding age makeup (Blanchett in her early 20s, 50s, 80s – wow) the pair are virtual knockouts.

Human exploration is king; coming of age with a local hooker, a brief tussle with WWII, treks to the Himalayas and a late-in-life connection with a long lost father of Button’s Buttons fame (Jason Flemyng). Brad Pitt voice-over is emotionally detached but beneficial.

“Button” is more journey than movie, every scene an artistic impression of the nuances of maturing. If, according to Benjamin Button, our lives are defined by opportunities, even those we miss, don’t let this be one of them.