Sunday, February 8, 2009

Hollywood Doing What it Does Best, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, dir. David Fincher

My expectations of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button were not high. At 2h45mins, I was so convinced I wouldn't make it through the whole film that I made my friend Ellen sit at the end of the row, for easy escape. And I was wrong. This is Hollywood at its best. Make no mistake, it's not esoteric or profound, I wouldn't even call it thought-provoking, and it's not setting new standards for film in the 21st century, but it is a Hollywood fairytale. It has all those fabulous one liners ... none of which I can remember ... but the sort that are not too deep, not too light, we all agree with, and make otherwise dodgy characters appear profound and wise.  It's a little bit like Gulliver's Travels, except everyone Benjamin meets is good - no one robs him, no one threatens him, he loves everyone and they love him. The similarities with Swift's novel are in the wonderful line up of characters, my favorite being the pigmy. And we are fed the message of everyone is equal, no matter what size, shape or color. It's a classical flashback narration being told from Benjamin's point of view through his diary, as it is read by his daughter to his one time lover as she lays on her death bed. Perfectly constructed. And the film has all the right ingredients - love, passion, lots of death - some natural, others not so - birth, marriage, separation, joy and sadness. If Hollywood can spin it, you can find it in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

The make up is extraordinary, and the editing and photography really a cut above the average Hollywood movie. David Fincher's DP and Lighting people must be the most talented in the town. I am sure that much of the aging is digitally effected, but a lot is also done through manipulation of the lighting. I can see why it would be up for all those academy awards - which doesn't mean it's the best film of the year, just that it would appeal to Hollywood. It's a superbly made film. Filmmaking aside, I am not sure there is much more to it though! To invest too deeply in the story can only bring disappointment. I also think there are moments where it loses coherence. When Benjamin is in Russia, I didn't really understand where he was - in a fancy hotel in a port town in Russia? And I couldn't work out why the British envoy would be there with his wife too. It was confusing. I also didn't understand why he was born as a baby and died as a baby - that made no sense. Shouldn't he be born as an 80 year old man? 

These creases aside, there were some wonderful shots where Hollywood makes a mockery of Hollywood, but it is unclear whether these are consciously done:  Brad Pitt in sunglasses, tanned, the wind in his hair on a boat sailing out to the ocean, shot in extreme low angle, filling the fame as though he were James Dean? Please. Or when Tilda Swinton as the first woman to kiss Benjamin asks him if he has ever read D.H. Lawrence. This is not subtle. Moments like these I couldn't stop laughing, much to the chagrin of the French audience who didn't seem to find it at all funny. Even when Benjamin turns up in Paris and says "bonjour" completely out of nowhere, in a broad American accent, the French failed to find it humorous. 

To my complete surprise, I came out having rekindled my love affair with the movies. This film is the reason we sit through film after second rate film so that eventually we find one that makes us laugh and cry and yearn and dream for a life that will never be ours. It's not a film that will change the world, and ultimately, the oh so perfect and loveable Benjamin might be too passive for some, making a movie that deserves the criticism it has received for its lack of tension. But it does what it has to in order to please those who matter.

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