07 January 2009
  the curious case of benjamin button

the good news about benjamin button is that it's entertaining. despite being more than two and a half hours long, it isn't boring. the story has many pieces to it that help keep it from dragging the way it might have had it been more expository. so it isn't entirely unenjoyable by any means.

the bad news about benjamin button, however, is plentiful. for me this film is entirely too derivative and has entirely too many problems to attract the kind of positive critical attention it has received. this film is a prime example of the power of campaigning. honestly, people were writing their positive reviews of this movie before they had even seen it. i remember in march reading about how good this movie was bound to be. and the problem is that critics have been blinded to button's major flaws.

first of all, the film is entirely too insistent on being clever. every detail of it from the title to the camera work, to the quirky acting and dialogue is very in-your-face-look-how-original-this-is. and quite honestly, it's not that original. no one could possibly see this film without comparing it to forrest gump. it's hard for me to say whether this is better or worse than gump, because the two films are so similar. in many ways they almost mirror one another (e.g. in the films' nearly identical methods of storytelling). and there are plenty of other movies this one seems derivative of as well. in short, this film isn't nearly as clever as it thinks it is, and in order to be really enjoyable, it needed to have stepped down off its high horse.

second, as was so irritating last year with juno, where the dialogue was so insistently hip, here the dialogue is equally insistently epigrammatic. pretty much every conversation in this film, every line of dialogue comes across as infinitely wise and like something one should stitch onto a pillow or tattoo across a chest. you never believe for a second that any of these conversations could actually be taking place. it's more likely that these conversations were merely cribbed from poor richard's almanac.

and just as the script of this movie is entirely too epigramatic, the story itself is similarly over-sentimental. every single action, every word, every glance, every expression in this film represents all these deep emotions that are always bubbling to the surface and threatening to just explode. and eventually it gets tiring watching that.

and what's up with all the symbolism? i mean a good book or a good film definitely has to employ symbolism if it is going to be adequately communicative, but here its hard to tell what isn't a symbol. i mean, even in just the last few frames, there is this extended sequence of all the symbols the film employs, from the hummingbird, to the dancer, to the diary, etc. the result for me is that these symbols become so watered down that they come to mean nothing. and i really think that this movie could have been a lot better if it had been made by a better director who could have censored this impulse for excess-- excessive sentimentality, excessive pedantry, excessive symbolism. this film definitely screams LESS IS MORE.

one other thing that really bothered me right from the beginning in this movie was how effected and unoriginal the narration was set up. it really couldn't have been any more hackneyed if it has ended in one of those it-was-only-a-dream moments. in order to enjoy the core of this film, one needs to suspend disbelief that somehow benjamin spent his entire life diligently writing in a diary (that we never see him carrying or writing in) and that it was just miraculously discovered moments before daisy's death, just in time for her to serendipitously impart the story of his life onto her daughter. honestly, it is just as effected as it sounds. and i could never suspend disbelief long enough to get into this peri-narrative.

in regards to the acting, the one truly bright spot in this movie is cate blanchett who completely and totally embodies her role as an aging new orleans matriarch, daisy. watching her in this role, it is one of those performances where you can't imagine anyone else playing this role. blanchett IS daisy. the same thing can not be said for brad pitt in the titular role. sure he is fine and everything, but one could imagine at least a dozen other actors playing this role just as good if not better than him. he is just much less interesting to watch than blanchett, and the parts of this movie that were most interesting to me were the ones that focused on her, especially as an older woman. unfortunately, as magical as cate blanchett is, even she can't save this curious case from the excesses of its director.
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