The Curious Case of Benjamin Button | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

A sprawling romance featuring a man who ages backward

At the screening I attended, I could hear the audience snuffling, but I found David Fincher's overly long, glossy account of one man's odd life to be more emotionally distancing than engaging. Liberally adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story by Eric Roth (whose Forrest Gump this film remind me of), the film tells the instructive tale of a baby named Benjamin Button, born old but who, as he grows up, becomes younger. Button is mostly played by Brad Pitt through the magic of make-up and digitally appending his head to tiny wrinkled bodies. In a series of episodes -- intercut with an awkward dying-woman-recollects framing device -- we follow Button from his childhood in a New Orleans old-folks home (how convenient), through World War II adventures and his mid-life romance with a ballet dancer (Cate Blanchett). While entertaining as a large-scale fable, Button's story left many quirky details (a backward-running clock, a pygmy) unexplained, while blithely adding contrivances (Hurricane Katrina; a useful inheritance). Pitt is game (though you could feel the audience relax when he achieved his mid-life perfect Brad Pitt-ness, sunburnished and lounging in vintage khakis), but Blanchett seemed an awkward fit throughout. Button presents a mildly interesting idea juiced with a lot of greeting-card sentiment and golden light. Its point doesn't seem especially illuminating: We all age (or unage), and that process is rife with regrets and loss. But living life in reverse doesn't change the basic mechanics of the human condition, just as a clock that runs backward doesn't change the fact the time still moves forward.

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