If you’ve read the classic short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, be warned. The wit and charm (and the major plot points) are missing from this melodramatic adaptation. The story was inspired by Mark Twain‘s comment that youth is wasted on the young. Fitzgerald took the idea and ran with it, and the film shares the same central idea. A baby is born as an old man, then grows younger as time passes, until dying as a baby.
The film explores the idea that the certain advantages of having the wisdom of age in your youthful years are far outweighed by disadvantage of never being headed the same direction as those you love. A somber Brad Pitt plays the mysterious Benjamin Button. He trips and stumbles through hardships, outlined by major historic events, like a Forrest Gump tag-along, if more effectively. Crossing his path is the beautiful (as always) Cate Blanchett, a snobbish, vapid ballet dancer whose siren red hair awkwardly harkens back to Moira Shearer’s The Red Shoes. The two attempt, in fits and starts, to form a relationship despite their different lives.
The film uses small details fairly well, like the evolution of the retirement home where Button grows up and the ballet revue of Carousel. But where it matters, it doesn’t quite rise to the occasion. Pitt and Blanchett show some sparks of natural chemistry at times, but it is inconsistent. Pitt’s character is flat, and nearly opaque. We are given little to go on in terms of his feelings, or the knowledge and experience he is gaining. Blanchett’s character is so selfish through most of the film that it is hard to imagine Button being so head over heels. Mostly, it seems impossible that their relationship would have taken the arc it did — if we all want to find the love of our lives, how could we possibly let it go when we do? There is little to redeem their selfish actions.
The minor helps, like the senile man who likes to tell stories about getting hit by lightning, the nod of the scars of WWI’s need for a useable past, and the sly appearance of Tilda Swinton, attempt to level out this overall heavy-handed film — all the more disappointing because of the enormous potential.
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