Carly at the Movies | Life is just a box of buttons

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” currently showing at the Colonial Mall in Staunton, is a curious film, indeed. Lengthy, slow, hypnotic, dark, and always with the intriguing question hanging in the somber theater air: What would happen to someone who was born old and gradually grew young?

This interesting screenplay has been in development for the past 14 years, with both Tom Cruise and John Travolta slated to star at one time or another. Brad Pitt ends up in the lead, and does an excellent job – his second in a row, after “Burn After Reading.”

Chances are you’ll enjoy it if you go for the kind of epic fantasy, off-beat film like “Forrest Gump,” (which was also written by Oscar-winning Eric Roth). “Button” is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald from his collection, “Tales of the Jazz Age.”

Cate Blanchett co-stars and is quite good as the girl who meets Button, a young/old orphan in 1920s New Orleans. They fall in love even as they pass one another, him growing gradually younger and hunkier, her aging gracefully. She plays a ballerina, and her background in classical dance is very apparent.

Half a dozen young actors play Button as he slowly (the flick runs over two and a half hours) de-matures against the background of American history.

Also notable in the cast are Tilda Swinton as Pitt’s first fling and Taraji P. Henson (you’ll probably recognize her from a zillion TV appearances) as the loving lady who takes in a newborn baby who looks like an 80-year-old man. (One could reasonably argue that, well, they all do.)

This is quite possibly the best film ever made for a genre of film that might be thought of as the drama of human aberration and strangeness. Besides “Forrest Gump,” there are only a few other entries – some good (like “Big Fish” and “The World According to Garp”) and some bad (like “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”).

Like “Gump,” this film is loaded with semi-unexplained symbols and American history told from odd angles. Frankly, I didn’t get the meaning of the hummingbirds or even the lightning strikes. I enjoyed the movie anyway. You don’t gotta be no genius to eat popcorn.

The story unfolds in flashbacks, with Julia Ormond reading Button’s journal to a hospitalized elderly lady, presumably Blanchett, on the eve of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans. That’s where the real film begins, and it’s a bit hard to grab onto its narrative hook. But once things get rolling, the story is fascinating, the special effects are first-rate, and there’s no way to guess how it will end.

Director David Fincher handles all this weird stuff admirably, and gives it the same dark touch seen in his earlier films like “Zodiac” (2007), “Panic Room” (2002) and “Fight Club”, which also starred Brad Pitt in 1999.

Figuring it’s correct to put regular people in strange circumstances (instead of the other way around), Fincher has Pitt underplaying the role. I suppose if one was gradually growing younger, one would come to just accept it – kind of like parents accept the fact that they suddenly grow stupid when their kids reach puberty.
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is thoroughly enjoyable (if you are patient), and will pick up a handful of awards as the season comes to an end. Plus, it will leave you pondering. And that’s always fun.


-Column by Carl Larsen


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