Benjamin Button’s Travels in Time

Despite its 13 oscar nominations (or perhaps because of them) we did not expect The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to be so enjoyable. It isn’t overly sentimental and it isn’t Forrest Gump in reverse. In fact only Benjamin’s World War 2 adventures on a tugboat border on the preposterous plot of that popular epic.

Brad Pitt is very good. He holds his own in a very talented cast. However, he doesn’t warrant the academy award for best actor ahead of Mickey Rourke or Sean Penn. He would have had more chance of a supporting actor oscar for Burn After Reading.

It is hard to suspend disbelief in the early parts of Benjamin’s life. It seems a bit too much like Bilbo Baggins in old age. It’s easier after he leaves home as a fully-grown, if wrinkly adult. Later we are in familiar Pitt territory until his youthful James Dean persona becomes too young for his motorbike.

Cate Blanchett as Daisy gives her usual competent performance but is less than convincing as a ballet dancer. Eric Roth’s screenplay cleverly intersects their lives at critical moments for both characters.

The strongest of the female actors are Taraji P. Henson as Button’s mother Queenie and Tilda Swinton as his wartime lover Elizabeth Abbott. Henson (and Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler) is far more deserving of the supporting actress academy award than Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Elizabeth’s long distance swimming is a nice twist. There is a touch of irony in their younger woman/older man romance which is echoed by Benjamin and Daisy’s older woman/younger man encounter later in the film.

The psychological aspects of Button’s experiences are far more engaging than his physical metamorphoses. I wonder what Jonathan Swift or Oscar Wilde would have made of all this. Our society’s quest for eternal youth and the perfect body are the stuff of social satire. Burn After Reading is a good example. At times The Curious Case takes itself too seriously. It isn’t funny enough given its subject matter.

The reading of Benjamin’s diary as narration for the story is a tired device. However, the clever use of Hurricane Katrina as background to the unfolding episodes in Benjamin’s life overcomes the shortcomings of this cinematic cliché.

Don’t be put off by the inevitable preconceptions created by the film’s publicity. It’s worth seeing on the big screen.

Kevin Rennie

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12 Responses

  1. I always rely on youngest for books. One was The Time Traveller’s Wife. How does this compare.

  2. Not the foggiest! I’m waiting for the movie.

  3. Ok Kevin..an even trickier question, what was wrong with Cate’s ballet? Bearing in mind that you are speaking to someone who was in her much younger days was accepted into the Victoria Ballet.

    Min rubs hands together (gleefully) suspecting that Kevin hasn’t the foggiest about ballet.

  4. I’ll have you know I saw Rudy and Margot live at the Palais in 1964. It isn’t my preferred sport but I did watch Ballets Russes last week. Cate’s best ballet is behind her.

  5. I thought it was quite enjoyable, but definitely not something worth an Oscar or other film award. The wife & I enjoyed it for what it was – a nice romantic life-story with a time-bending twist 🙂

  6. Kevin…Wait for it..yes I was there too in 1964. If I search hard enough I still have the programme.

    Well isn’t life strange, Kevin and Min attended the same performance of a ballet in ’64.

  7. Kevin,

    I have only seen this on the small screen (gotta love Asian DVD stores 😉 ) and like you, I wasn’t expecting much but I’ve gotta say that I really enjoyed it. Your analysis is pretty much spot on (ie Cate’s ballet years are past her etc) but I don’t agree about the tub boat thing – I actually enjoyed that because it wasn’t the usual cliched war hero thing. All in all 4 out of 5 is about right for me.

  8. Dave55

    I enjoyed the tug too. Right side of the “border”. Shades of Sydney Harbour 1942 except they were minis.

  9. Well isn’t life strange, Kevin and Min attended the same performance of a ballet in ‘64.

    Incredible

  10. I enjoyed the film, and also agree that Cait’s ballet dancing days are behind her, if they ever were in front of her.

    I really like dramas that centre around different people and their dissecting lives. Benjamin is such a honey in the film, it doesn’t matter that he is old – he accepts what life gives him and makes the best of it, his observations of others are quite delightful.

    As Brad Pitt gets younger, you expect him to become handsome and charming Benjamin, he does, and in a powerfully pleasing form – beautiful face and body, with a heart that’s true.

    A good story, although I thought the tugboat life in reality might have been too harsh for an older man who doesn’t have the most robust health.

    A thought provoking film.

  11. Min

    My ’64 ballet was a special matinee performance that was recorded for TV. Much of the audience were free-loading school students like me. Nureyev stopped in full flight several times because he was not happy with his execution. The best things in life…

  12. Just from memory, Fonteyn and Nureyev gave only a couple of performances and I definitely went to the only matinee. I can’t remember the stop-start but given that I was 13yrs I was probably too busy drooling over Nureyev and sighing over Fonteyn’s elegance.

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