The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the poor man’s Forrest Gump. Eric Roth, screenwriter of extraordinary works like Munich, The Insider, and of course Forrest Gump, has “adapted” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story about a man who lives his life backwards. It has everything a classic best picture contender could ask for: a sweeping epic about one man, layers of voice overs philosophizing about life (“You never know what’s coming for you,” “We all end up in diapers”), breathtaking special effects, makeup, cinematography, editing, art direction, and musical scoring (supplementing the story instead of overpowering it), a magical, “curious” tone, and Cate Blanchett. This is probably the best film out of the five contenders, but it could have been so much more, and here is why:
I. Brad Pitt. Pitt is a good actor, much more than he is given credit for. However, he is a lazy actor. Pitt’s Benjamin is extremely likable, but he’s not interesting. In fact, he’s incredibly boring. Pitt is an actor who shows little emotion, even when his characters are emotional. The only time we’re invested in his character is when he is riding around on his motorcycle looking like, well, Brad Pitt. There’s a difference between reserved and lethargic. A better choice would have been Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine mode, or better yet, Russell Crowe — someone who truly becomes his or her character (like Blanchett), not mimics how he or she thinks it should be.
II. Eric Roth should have stuck to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original story line, which had Benjamin “born again,” if you will, as an old man, in an old man’s body (size-wise) and ages physically backwards, instead of a baby’s body size. Confused yet? It simply would make more rational sense (in a movie about someone aging backwards), considering how Roth’s character turns into a baby physically and mentally, completing the full and necessary arc. In a film with such bizarre material, it seems as if the filmmakers “copped-out” just to have a more plausible prologue and birth.
III. Considering the premise, there was virtually nothing in this movie that wouldn’t be expected with the story line. Musings about time and mortality, and the role they play in our everyday lives? Check. The protagonist ventures out from the only world he knows? Yup. Main conflict involves falling in love and the many obvious, albeit intriguing, complications of aging in two opposite directions unfold? Gotcha. The movie caressed and tugged at our skin, but it was too timid to really get underneath it.
That being said, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button remains a creative, fantastic, and appealing film, and is still the best picture of the bunch (by an old man’s nose hair); but in Benjamin’s own words: “Your life is defined by its opportunities… even the ones you miss.”