Less offensive than Forrest Gump in terms of how it alters history for the sake of its own self-important sense of sentimentality, but at the hands of David Fincher – it was the most that one can hope for with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Granted, Forrest Gump will be among the first films that one will think of when one talks about David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button because the similarities within the sort of narrative experimentation which they are working with are not limited from the fact that the two of them share Eric Roth as a screenwriter but also from what they make of their setting. And for as much as I love the work of David Fincher, this was always one of my biggest struggles in regards to his filmography for by my own personal experience, it took me three attempts to make it through The Curious Case of Benjamin Button without feeling a need to fall asleep, but even describing such a film as “bloated” doesn’t even begin to cover why it’s such a frustrating, even annoying experience.
The premise of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story is simple enough, we are watching the life story of Benjamin Button unfold in front of our eyes as he ages backwards. Fitzgerald has never been a particularly easy writer to adapt to the screen, as made clear through the numerous adaptations of The Great Gatsby (all of which spectacularly failed at capturing what made the novel as complex yet beguiling as it was), but maybe the simplicity of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button would open for something easier: and yet it’s not the case anymore. A short story that started out as a clever commentary about ageism running within society has only found itself regressed to a sentimental love story that in itself, feels like an empty shell, bloated to a length that runs for nearly three hours. With Eric Roth penning the script I thought it only made sense that it would suffer not only from this feeling of being bloated but an ugly sense of self-importance that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
When one looks at what The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is experimenting with in terms of its narrative, it doesn’t seem to do so much with the simplicity of its own premise to justify such a long running time. It reminds me of what I greatly dislike about Forrest Gump, for it seems the settings become emphasized over its characters, whose arcs never seem to make evidence of a sign of purpose. But if self-importance were the issue, then it feels most prevalent in what the film is making of its own setting. But the knowledge that this film is primarily told in flashback doesn’t seem to help either, rather instead it’s just bloating how the film is expecting us to feel about its characters. The whole story revolves around Benjamin and is told to us by an elderly Daisy Fuller’s daughter read from his own diary. But it’s this storytelling device in particular that just aggravates me, because it brings back bitter memories of Nick Cassavetes’s The Notebook, just in how it weaves through nostalgia in order to emphasize its own tragedies, almost in a manner it’s just become dictation rather than natural.
It would perhaps be a whole lot easier for me to stomach this film’s idea of sentimentality if Benjamin Button was a rounded character, but he isn’t. There’s no insight laced within Benjamin and the fact he is getting younger within time, it’s just a bland faced Benjamin Button watching everything happen in front of his own self. The fact there’s so little for Brad Pitt even to do isn’t helpful on the film’s end, because it seems to wallow in its many settings rather than form compelling characters out of what they are. This whole film is revolving around what is happening to Benjamin Button rather than about Benjamin Button himself, because it seems even David Fincher is afraid to go into his own psyche. He doesn’t seem to learn anything much, even from a romance that he forms with Daisy Fuller (anchored with an excellent Cate Blanchett performance), nor his own trials during WWII – he’s just a canvas that walks around for the film to hold onto for a long period of time, before moving onward.
David Fincher’s directorial efforts aren’t particularly distinctive in here, but a terribly made film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is not. The make-up work is spectacular, especially within how it makes the actors appear older or younger, but it’s still just strange seeing recognizable faces performing under such heavy makeup. The visual effects work is fine, but the highlight if anything ever were to stand out, is the cinematography. It barely even feels rewarding even for a director like David Fincher when even the best aspects of something that could easily have been a beautifully clever tale about growing up in such odd circumstances still feels extremely conventional at its core. Fincher is a talented filmmaker, but I feel like I could easily have been told off that this wasn’t a film under his own eyes and I’d find myself believing it easily. It’s a work that feels too tame and unfocused for his own end, just relying upon nostalgia to bloat its mistaken sense of profundity.
My feelings towards The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are not nearly half as vitriolic as my own for Forrest Gump, but it’s easy enough for me to say that it annoys me for the exact same reasons. Because with a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, all that David Fincher has ever turned it into was a work whose identity seems lost inside of its own misguided sentimentality. It’s distinctively a David Fincher film when one looks at his own stylistic trademarks coming into play, but at its core it feels far too tame even for his own hands and it just seems to hold on for long stretches of time without ever feeling necessary in these moments. If Hollywood’s understanding of the stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald remains at a minimum with films like this and the numerous Great Gatsby adaptations that have come over the years, then maybe it’s best he be left alone. If something isn’t broken, then I don’t see why there’s a need to bother “fixing” everything up. And if David Fincher manages to make a worse film than this, surprised would be one way to describe how I feel afterwards.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Paramount.
Directed by David Fincher
Screenplay by Eric Roth, from the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Produced by Ceán Chaffin, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall
Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson
Release Year: 2008
Running Time: 166 minutes