Sunday, 11 April 2010

Flashback: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

It’s a weird thing when something seems both subtle and obvious at the same time, but paradoxes are everywhere in the world – especially film. There’s a scene in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that I’m particularly fond of that could very well act as an illustration of the entire film. As Benjamin narrates piece, through (seemingly trivial) piece of unrelated events we lead up to the fateful accident of Daisy. The message pounded home is not subtle – every action has its consequence. Yet, I never think of this scene as heavy-handed. It’s the same with Benjamin Button. At my most understanding, I’m well aware of what could turn persons off from it – but each time I return to it I’m impressed, enthralled even. It’s just that special for me. I like how Cate and Brad manage to convince us of their youth as much as their age. Makeup can only do so much, and Cate especially is particularly vivacious as the young dancer.
I’d be at a lost to categorise The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to anyone who asked me. It’s not a fantasy, though its logic is something fantastical. It’s dramatic but it’s too humorous to be a drama, focusing too much on an ensemble to be a romance and as expansive as it is, too personal to be considered an epic. I’m still often in wonder that this was what Eric Roth decided to write from Fitzgerald’s not so short story. I’m a tempered fan of Fitzgerald, but for all its irreverence I never become completely sold on his narrative in Benjamin Button until the very end of the piece. I recall the immediate accusation of Roth’s regurgitation of his Forrest Gump plot for this venture, and I’m always at a loss. Surely, there are more films than these two that feature men in love meeting interesting characters along the way. But if Benjamin Button represents reaching the top without actually going over the top, Forrest Gump represents its antithesis. Not that I’m a hater of the 1994 piece, but whereas Forrest Gump reaches its zenith in its moments of delicious schmaltz Benjamin Button is most honest when it gets most simplistic. A simple conversation in a dance studio seems so lovely as Cate and Brad “meet in the middle” or Tilda Swinton’s unremarkable Elizabeth Abbot, becomes more than just the archetypical “older woman”.
But, it’s not that Benjamin Button is without its moment of ridiculous conviviality. Ben’s moment of healing in the church surrounded by the Pentecostal church (and it’s not a stereotype) is wrong on so many levels and yet absolutely hilarious. Taraji P. Henson’s Queenie is a breathing woman under her ostensible stereotypes. It seems easy, but Taraji decides to breathe life into Queenie when we least expect it, and continues to “act” even when it doesn’t seem as necessary. I love her first scene on the landing with her ever faithful Mr. Weathers. Her discovery of Benjamin is the strongest part of her performance and I’m always moved to believe in the honesty of her claiming of this grotesque child. The bit players move through the narrative, each giving their bit to the film, from Jason Flemyng's tortured father to Julia Ormond's sorrowful daughter.
These early moments, though, seem so far removed from the other sections of the film. In its own way, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a bit like many films in one. It’s seems discordant, but it’s still melodic in its own special way. It’s this same ostensible discordance that makes it what it is. As the final narration begins and we see the people in Benjamin’s love we come once again to the unsubtle subtlety, its intentions don't become twdry by its obviousness though. If had included films from 2008 and later in my list of favourites; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button would be somewhere. Its scope is formidable, it’s technical achievements are flawless, the acting is excellent and the story though unusual is still real. Yet, it’s all so personal…and exquisite.I never expected to love it as much, but "You never knows what's coming to you."


simoncolumb said...

First up, my review:

I didn't like the il at all - and though Pitt (can this be possible??) was completely miscast and the script was badly written even though the writer should be able to write something better.

CrazyCris said...

I seem to be in the minority (from what I've read around the web), but I really enjoyed Benjamin Button! To me it felt like watching poetry. It was beautiful and it struck a chord. Ditto with The Assassination of Jesse James... I think people have gotten so used to LOTS of stuff happening in their movies they've all developped a kind of A.D.D. and can't appreciate slow-moving pieces that just tell a tale.

Their loss!


Robert said...

I appreciated the film though I didn't love it. However technically (score, art direction, etc.) it's gorgeous! And I love, love, love times a million the scene about all the tiny things that led to her being hit by the car. Such a powerful scene.

Castor said...

"I’d be at a lost to categorise The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to anyone who asked me"

A romantic tragedy maybe? I thought it was a relatively solid film but overly extended. IMO, had it been condensed a little more, it would have made it better

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

simon i don't really know what to say, obviously i disagree with you. it's a pity you didn't like it.

crazy cris i'm with you, brother.

robert it IS a powerful scene

castor the length really was never an issue for me. if we were to get into overlong 2008 pieces, i'd look up the dark knight, but i'm know i'm in the minority on that one. :)