Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Five Nights With...Elle Fanning: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

It is day three of our 'Five Nights With Elle Fanning' marathon, and last night I revisited that 2008 Fincher film, 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'.  David Fincher.  I love the man.  I'm a huge fan of the majority of his work, and rewatching this divided classic has me realizing how much of a fan I am.  Even when his film's don't completely work for me, there are elements of grandeur and excitement and style that keep me intrigued.  

Sadly, with as dripping with style as this film was, there is a detachment that cannot be ignored and a feeling of 'incomplete' that permeates the picture for me.

And I remember wanting to love this movie so much.

Walking into `The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' I was excited. I had read the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and so my appetite was wet. Not only that, but the film had been raved by many as the best of the year; it was winning all sorts of awards and looked prime for the Best Picture Oscar. Aside from that, I am a huge fan of David Fincher, Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt and so I think it is safe to say that `The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' looked like it just may be the perfect movie to me.

In a world filled with the same ol' same it is always refreshing to see a film with such an original prose.

Walking out of `The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' I felt a little cold. Many critical reviews of the film labeled that the films solitary weakness; that it left you emotional detached. It was less that and more emotionally robbed I think. I wanted to feel attachment and I wanted to feel moved, but I didn't. There are moments (especially with regard to Benjamin's decisions about `family') that play with the heart strings and can bring tears, but the films delivery is at such a stagnant pace that it makes it difficult to find an emotional foundation. Brad Pitt's performance, while solid, is at times almost lifeless and this can add to the lack of emotional chemistry with the audience. He tells us how one should be feeling (in a very slick and enjoyable voice over) but we can never truly grasp what Benjamin is feeling because he is so closed off. 

He is merely an observer, letting us see the journey of his life but never truly letting us experience it with him. Someone mentioned the word `canvas', that Benjamin was a blank canvas on which those around him painted the story of their lives. That sounds about right, for it is the people around Benjamin that engage us the most. 

Having read the short story I of course have my qualms with the films adaptation, minor as they may be. Let me first say that the film is drastically different from the story, which is shocking since the short story was expertly crafted. Having Benjamin grow up in a nursing home under the care of a foster mother was an inspired departure from the story, and it gave way to some nice character development on the part of Benjamin, Daisy and of course his foster mother Queenie. I am not upset about this alteration one bit. In fact, I am delighted with it. My main complaint with the films departure from printed page comes in the films end, (and subsequently the films `modern day' beginnings) and the way that Benjamin's `family' is handled. 

I'll scream SPOILERS...just so you are aware. 

In the story the real meat of Fitzgerald's moral comes from the way Benjamin is regarded by his loved ones once he becomes `younger' than they are. Whether it is Daisy's disgust with her younger husband merely because he is a constant reminder of her age or his children's disgust with their father beings that they must now take care of him, the story's major wind is found in its ending. I won't say how this film ends, but let's just say that the choice made my Button in regards to his family, while emotional upon impact, is much less effective or enlightening as Fitzgerald's original prose. 

On another note in regards to the ending, I felt as if it was trying to make up for the films overall stiffness by giving us that sentimental monologue that just didn't fit ("some people dance"). 

The films biggest conundrum is David Fincher, the films director. I am a huge fan of his work and was very excited to see him garnering the respect and admiration he has so long deserved, but this is not the film for which he should have received it. He may deliver the film to us almost like a poet, but his poem is almost devoid of real substance. It is very fluid and very `epic' yet it still feels very small. I told a friend that this was a small story given epic treatment yet it still comes off like a small film. This is a blessing and a malediction, for the film has the intimate qualities of an independent film with the visual grandeur of an epic Hollywood escapade. That's the blessing. The malediction comes from the fact that, while it boasts the visual splendor (an area in which it excels) it never takes full advantage of the intimacy it possesses. There are so many quiet moments within `Button' that feel lost. There is a delicate side story containing the marvelous Tilda Swinton that is probably the most effective and `complete' portion of the film, and it made me sad because the rest of the film lacked the sharpness that that sequence of events contained. When you watch the film you may not immediately see what I'm pointing out (although if you read this before you watch the film then you might see it front and center) so I can't fault it too much. Fincher does some phenomenal work here visually, but emotionally he drops the ball.

It is beautiful to look at, each frame floating by like clouds. Nothing is choppy; nothing is rigid; every frame is smooth and delicate and comforting. 

As many have already noted about this film, it is not an actor's showcase (although I found Blanchett and Swinton to be stunning). This is a technical achievement if nothing else, and technically it is splendid. Fincher has crafted what may very well be his most technically proficient film. It's just a shame that that proficiency was not carried on into the heart of the film. Fincher failed to balance out the two ends of his film and thus delivered to us a beautifully shot yet emotionally vapid film. 

I did like this movie, and maybe over time I will see it differently. I just don't love it like I thought I would have. It could have been improved upon had Pitt delivered a little more life to Benjamin. It also would have been preferable to have some of the films center trimmed to allow more depth given to the films end, which is really the most important part of the story. I cannot knock this movie entirely (and I'm sorry if it looks like I'm ripping it to shreds in parts of this review) because it is entertaining and enjoyable and very beautifully directed; but I must call it out for its missteps and at least be true to my own opinions. I'd watch it again, most definitely, but the film feels sorely like a missed opportunity. 

Seems like a fitting way to end this review...
So there you have it; my review of the film.  It may not be a popular opinion, but it is my own.  Tomorrow I'll be reviewing 'Somewhere'!  Thanks to TheVoid99 for sending me links to their review of the film.  I'll be posting that link in my review tomorrow.  Josh also sent a brief FYC for the girls of 'Ginger & Rosa', which I linked in my review from yesterday.  If you have any posts related to these films that you'd like mentioned, send them on over!

See you tomorrow!


  1. Thanks for the link man!

    "A missed opportunity" sums up my thoughts perfectly. I wanted it to be one of the all-time greats, and it wasn't. It looks so gorgeous, but the distance, like you mentioned, keeps me from loving it. I really like it, though.

    1. Yeah, it certainly has it's moments and it's pluses, but this should have been a masterpiece, a classic, and it just isn't.