'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is the story of a Southern outcast with a loud, adage-spouting mother. He grows up to cruise the waters with a cranky shipmate, serve his country during a tumultuous war, fall hopelessly in love with his childhood sweetheart and witness some key moments in American history.
Yeah, does that sound familiar? It should. You probably saw this movie 14 years ago, when it was called "Forrest Gump."
Well, Gump is back, but this time, he's not mentally disabled. He's just starting his life as an old man.
Instead of Tom Hanks' special special-needs person, we have Brad Pitt as the title character, whom we first see in the early 20th century as an elderly baby.
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Dropped off on the doorstep of a New Orleans convalescent home by his freaked-out father (Jason Flemyng), he gets taken in by the home's black attendant (Taraji P. Henson) and manages to slip in with the home's boarders as he grows up basically as an old man in a wheelchair.
With Pitt's million-dollar mug digitally superimposed on youngsters' faces, audiences will either be impressed with the feat or have nightmares about it for years to come. (I know a couple of co-workers who won't see this movie because of that creepy bit of movie magic.)
As the residents of the home quietly slip away one after another, Button gets younger and younger. He soon ventures out and travels the world working on a tugboat with a tattoo-covered, continually drunk captain (Jared Harris). At one point, he and his crewmates go up against a German U-boat during WWII.
But even when he stops in Russia and has an affair with a British spy's wife (Tilda Swinton), he still pines for Daisy, a little girl who visited the home when he was an old young 'un and who grows up to be a free-spirited dancer (played by Cate Blanchett).
Adapted from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, "Button" was written by Eric Roth (who -- big surprise -- wrote "Gump") and Robin Swicord and directed with schmaltzy melancholy by David Fincher (seems like someone is looking to become the next Robert Zemeckis).
This is a movie that supposedly has a heart of darkness underneath all those layers of whimsy and sentimentality. In the often excessive 2 hours "Button" is on the screen, it makes a continuous effort to remind audiences that growing old and dying is inevitable. Death is all around us, kids, so make the best of it, for life is too short.
(Didn't Katt Williams succinctly bring that point across -- in only 45 minutes, mind you! -- in his "Pimp Chronicles" HBO special?)
For the most part, "Button" is the most elegantly made yet shrug-inducing Oscar-baiting epic of the season. For a film that's mostly about the fragility of human life, the movie's flaws just break away and fall right into your lap.
Practically continuing that awkwardness they had together in "Babel," the relationship between Pitt and Blanchett is kind of listless. And I'm still trying to figure out why they even conceived the movie's framing device, where an old, bedridden, hospital-bound Daisy has her daughter (Julia Ormond) read Benjamin's diary aloud as Hurricane Katrina hits outside the window.
Ultimately, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" suffers mainly from biting off a bit too much from that other Oscar-destined four-hankie flick. I'm sure audience members will just wish they had just seen that flick instead of plunking down money for another, even more mawkish version of it.
In the end, "Button" is all Gumped up.