For the record, let me just say that it brings me no pleasure at all to tear into David Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." I've been an avid Fincher fan from the start, and I certainly don't want to begrudge him his moment in the sun, but I wish it could have come with something better than this debacle.
And yes, I know I'm certainly in the minority on this one. I've read the opinions of many people I trust, like Bob (who supposedly writes with a dude named Justin, though he never seems to say too much), who gave his glowing assessment here.
But for me, though it strives endlessly for charm, it too often just comes off as bland, and for that I blame screen writer Eric Roth as much as I do Fincher for turning what could have been a "eulogy for the 20th century" or any number of other grand things into a series of greeting card-inspired vignettes.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I thoroughly hate "Forrest Gump," and that's not a word I throw around lightly. It's just so treacly in all the worst ways, and though I tried to keep it out of my mind as I watched "Benjamin Button," the similarities are just all too painfully glaring.
To be fair, it starts out well enough. Brad Pitt brings a genuine spirit to F. Scott Fitzgerald's creation of an old man with the brain of a young child, and having him raised in an odd retirement home (by the always welcome Taraji P. Henson) allows for both a setting full of charm and the tricks of time I had been expecting (though I had seen a lot of this in the trailer and other clips, removing a big chunk of the magic.)
But even here it turns too quickly from Fincher's movie to Roth's, one in which every scene seems to begin in or end with an aphorism about as profound (and oft-repeated here) as "you can be anything you want to be." Much worse, it's a superficial world full of stock characters, from the seafarer who shows Benjamin the world (sound familiar?) to the kind and wise (shock!!) black characters who teach him to respect everyone he encounters.
And I would have more time for all of this if Pitt's performance didn't become more and more leaden as he begins to look more and more like, well, Brad Pitt. He just looks as bemused by that rather startling development as I was, and that robs what should have been a grand romance of most of its passion, even as Cate Blanchett does her usual best to give it a spark.
So, is it all bad? Certainly not. Along with the thoroughly charming beginning, it ends with something approaching the style I expected as Benjamin makes his appropriately traumatic return to infancy. And, despite my stated beef with Roth's characterizations, Henson's performance is as good as advertised (though, to be fair, I like her in just about everything, even the truly awful "Smokin' Aces.")
In the (way too long) middle, however, there's just wasn't nearly enough to keep me intrigued, so I have to regrettably call this one a noble failure. Like I said, I know I'm in the definite minority here, so please feel free to sound off and let me know just how wrong I am.