A potential Oscar-favorite and one of this year’s most anticipated films, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is a coming of age/love story that touches all of the right chords. Button is an orphan, left on a porch by his father (Snatch’s Jason Flemyng) after being born horrifically disfigured with his mother dying during child birth. Button’s tale is told essentially via flashbacks, through a diary that he himself penned. Brad Pitt stars, playing the titular lead with a striking innocence that particularly comes across during his youth/old age years. This is a charming, occasionally funny, and sweeping yarn that is likely to please most audiences.
A black house-aid named Queenie, finds Benjamin on the steps to a halfway house/retirement home, where Button’s life is saved and he is raised amongst the elderly. Taraji P. Henson (Baby Boy) gives a touching performance as Queenie, the woman who becomes Benjamin’s mother. While living there, they routinely see people come and go, literally and figuratively. It’s the relationship that Benjamin forms with Daisy (Cate Blanchett), a young grand-daughter of a woman there, that catapults the film forward.
The tale encompasses Button’s entire life, with some ups and downs, but the clear focus is on what is good and perhaps bittersweet. The challenges that Button faces are largely over-looked and the viewer gets to experience the kind soul that he is, all the while taking in various parts of New Orleans and in some respects, locations like Paris and Manhattan, through his travels. Benjamin’s unique journey and desire to fulfill his love is ever-present. The seizing of opportunity and capitalizing on chance are evident themes.
This movie shares many similarities to past Oscar-winner, Forrest Gump. The sweet tone of the movie, the longing for a woman who is in-and-out of Benjamin’s life, and the comic-relief in the film, in Jared Harris’ Captain Mike echoing Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan in Gump, are traits that come to mind. Through the Captain, Benjamin experiences the world and in many ways is taught how to become a man, even though he has long looked like one. Benjamin gets to experience the pleasures of a brothel, the sweet elixir of alcohol, and the delights of travel while out at sea. In Forrest Gump there is a feather that wafts in the wind, a whimsical, if fleeting and magical footnote in the story and with The Curious Case, that presence is a hummingbird.
That David Fincher, the director of notably dark and obsessive films like Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac, helmed this, makes the achievement all the more astounding. He lets the story play itself out on screen and rarely do you see hints of the Fincher that we have seen before. However, it does creep up in a brilliantly shot scene about the passing of seconds in time that lead to chance moments in our life, in this case, as part of Daisy’s story. Fincher should be on target for some just rewards come awards season.
The technical wizardry behind the film cannot be overlooked. Pitt’s performance is enhanced as he concocts voice dialogue to match with the figure of his youthful/old man who takes up a large portion of the film’s running time. Many of those moments are the funniest in the film and seeing Pitt’s face digitally and accurately matched to the other actors who play Benjamin is a real treat. It’s hard to imagine anyone not appreciating that aspect of the film at the very least. For what it’s worth, to this juncture, this is the finest film I have seen this year. A strong recommend for the Holiday season.