Monday, December 29, 2008

The Curious Case of the Sleeping Spectator

First, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for posting so sporadically. In regards to this I will say two things:
  1. I have been very busy with holiday debauchery and
  2. I am in general a bit of a flake, so while I may have a legitimate excuse this time, I cannot promise to post regularly. I wait for inspiration to come to me, and you cannot rush that sort of thing!
Onwards! Yesterday I went to see David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and whew what a soporific waste of my precious time. In case you didn’t already know, Button is about the journey of a man who ages backward, progressing from an arthritic infant to a handsome adult and finally to a young boy with an aged, Alzheimer’s-plagued mind. I was mildly intrigued by the premise and was in the mood for a heartwarming film that – with the concept of time so heavily woven into its narrative – promised to inspire me to live each day to its fullest (I love movies like that). But no such luck. More lackluster than epic, Button is stultifying when it should be sentimental, and vague and removed when it should be resonating with its audience.

Button’s most glaring failure is its entirely underdeveloped protagonist. Benjamin Button (played by Brad Pitt) is the least riveting character in the entire film. Amidst a vivid ensemble of personalities – ranging from Benjamin’s surrogate mother Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) whose sweetness is second to none, to his father (Jason Flemyng) who has lived most of his life with intense guilt, to drunken, aspiring-artist Captain Mike (Jared Harris) – the main character blanches in comparison. Despite the film’s massive running time, Benjamin fails to become three dimensional; he passively shuffles along with little discernible aspiration, character or direction. Perhaps Fincher thought Benjamin would seem capricious when he signs up to work on a tugboat or later to go to war, but because these choices were made without impetus or joie de vivre, they merely seem arbitrary.

The weakness of Benjamin’s character ruins the film’s entire plot by rendering the romance between Ben and his love Daisy (the always talented Cate Blanchett) baseless and unbelievable. Meeting when (chronologically) both are children, the two form a life-long bond and finally have a relationship when they "meet in the middle" and both look the same age. The way the two weave in and out of one another’s lives is supposed to give the film its heart but, sadly, I just stopped caring because the two had no chemistry. If the two lovers had any bond as children, it was not conveyed to the audience. The two exchange a maximum of ten meaningless lines of dialogue in these childhood scenes and seem only mildly fond of one another. Later in life when they again meet, Daisy is a beautiful and talented ballet dancer with a full social life and a hot boyfriend. Benjamin is an ugly, old (looking) bore who has nothing interesting to say. Yet somehow she is attracted to him! If Fincher had done a better job with depicting their earlier connection, or if Benjamin had an iota of personality, then perhaps their relationship would have resonated with viewers.

The film also attempts to echo its screenwriter Eric Roth’s previous (and hugely more successful) effort Forrest Gump in terms of structure. However, the film again falls short of its goals because of the weakness of its main character. In both Button and Gump the protagonists have "conditions" and look at things from a slightly different perspective than those around them. Both men meet a variety of people and touch their lives in unique ways. However, Forrest is a soulful, relatable character whose impact on others is easily understood by the audience. Benjamin’s effect on those around him is less evident; one woman he meets is Mrs. Abbott, a wealthy, unhappily married woman who feels she has never done anything with her life. After a brief affair with Ben, she goes on to follow her dream of becoming the oldest woman to swim the English Channel. How knowing Ben inspired her to do that is totally mystifying to me when all he made me want to do was sleep.

Benjamin’s character was so flat, so lifeless, so ruinous to the entire film that I began to wonder just how such a remarkably dreadful personage was ever brought to the silver screen. It couldn’t just be blamed on a poor script and directoral choices, could it? This got me thinking about last year woefully abysmal piece of squalor The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and how that protagonist was eerily equally devoid of personality. What’s the common denominator here? Brad Pitt! At last I had hit upon what precisely made both these films such abhorrent bores. Despite his good looks, the man cannot carry off a "straight man" type of role. When given strongly written characters (like in Fight Club), he is altogether adequate, but when given a nondescript personage, he is unable to inject charisma, likeability or empathy into it and, in lieu, delivers a bland performance.

In essence, Button was an insipid film made worse by the poor writing, directing, and acting of the main character. Readers! I urge you: skip it. Or if still want to go against my advice, well, at least maybe you'll get a nice nap out of it. But seriously, don't go. Your money and time would be put to better use by seeing that terrible looking Marley & Me movie. Trust me, it can’t get any worse than this.


  1. Yes! I'm glad to see someone finally agree with me! All the critics were like "Yes, Benjamin has no character, and yes Pitt's acting consists of looking handsome, but the movie's just so pretty! How can you not like something so pretty!" Then again, they all loved Jesse James too, so maybe they just like looking at Brad Pitt for multiple hours.

  2. marx and his damn opium has ruined the film industry as well. someone should be paying you to write this. the only truthful review yet.