Woe, to be young again:
‘Button’ likely won’t age well

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” digs itself a hole, and that hole is this: It is difficult for elderly characters to carry a feature-length film.

It has worked — Henry Fonda and Kate Hepburn dazzle in “On Golden Pond” — but generally older characters are most successful when they supplement the story played out by their younger versions, such as the Gloria Stuart/Kate Winslet pairing of “Titanic.”

Of course, “Button” is not strictly about being old. But for 165 minutes, we spend a lot of time looking at an old man and observing him in a rest home, and spend a lot of time observing an old woman in a hospital. Is this worth the payoff for the message delivered? Probably not, at 165 minutes.

This review, done two months after the film was seen, had hoped to absorb something about it over time that wasn’t apparent during the screening. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Surely in such a picture there must be well-done nuances worth discovering. Whatever of those elements exist are obscured by the frustration of waiting for Benjamin to grow.

Despite that, “Button” raises some profound points. Whether many viewers will want to think about these things is debatable.

“Button” draws fascinating, if troubling, parallels between very old age and very young age. Both have their limitations, and both tend to resist the handling they receive. A 6-year-old cannot live on her own; most 99-year-olds cannot either. Sadly, in the way we talk around them, there is the tendency to treat both the same way.

The joy of the 6-year-old is that she will grow, and one day own the life experiences of the 99-year-old. The joy of the 99-year-old is that she has successfully done the growing and does own the life experiences that await the 6-year-old. Except it doesn’t really feel that way.

What “Button” reminds us is that everyone is meant for his time. We see Benjamin unable to connect with Daisy, until the time is right, only to have the connection sadly begin to wither away. Thankfully humans do not age in opposite directions, but the message is a powerful one, that certain boundaries in life are unassailable.

“Button” has obvious grand aspirations, so obvious that it’s almost an immediate disappointment. It is epic length, with an epic star. It feels constructed specifically to win Oscars. There must be 50 or so makeup artists. But for far too much of the film — not quite as bad as “Cold Mountain,” but close — our star is kept away from the person we want to see him with, and significant patience is required to mine the reward from their pairing.

Critics have noted the parallels to “Forrest Gump.” Among them, an unflappable, always content protagonist with a childhood disability that is outgrown, from an unconventional family, the love interest needing him at some point but not others, the generational nature of the film. All true. But perhaps the most disappointing element is the tiresome, soap opera-esque concept of someone not knowing who their father is eventually learning who their father is.

The movie is based on a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Brad Pitt is famously interested in New Orleans, which probably accounts for the mystical qualities given to Hurricane Katrina. There must be a metaphor here, but it feels as though the storm is merely a diversion to give us an occasional break from the story.

It is impossible not to root for Benjamin Button. Root for the movie? Some will find the sentiments appealing; others will see it as ambitious, but unoriginal and uninspiring. Best guess here is that it will soon fade, much faster than its cousin “Forrest Gump,” even should it somehow come up big in the Oscars. While 2008 offered many quality films, it was considered one of the most lackluster years in recent Oscar history. Perhaps a crowning of “Benjamin Button” is a fitting conclusion.

2.5 stars
(February 2009)

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008)
Starring Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button ♦ Cate Blanchett as Daisy ♦ Taraji P. Henson as Queenie ♦ Julia Ormond as Caroline ♦ Faune A. Chambers as Dorothy Baker ♦ Elias Koteas as Monsieur Gateau ♦ Donna DuPlantier as Blanche Devereux ♦ Jacob Wood as Martin Gateau ♦ Earl Maddox as Man at Train Station ♦ Ed Metzger as Teddy Roosevelt ♦ Jason Flemyng as Thomas Button ♦ David Jensen as Doctor at Benjamin’s Birth ♦ Joeanna Sayler as Caroline Button ♦ Mahershalalhashbaz Ali as Tizzy ♦ Fiona Hale as Mrs. Hollister ♦ Patrick Thomas O’Brien as Dr. Rose ♦ Danny Nelson as General Winston ♦ Marion Zinser as Mrs. Horton ♦ Peter Donald Badalamenti II as Benjamin 1928-31 ♦ Paula Gray as Sybil Wagner ♦ Lance E. Nichols as Preacher ♦ Rampai Mohadi as Ngunda Oti ♦ Troi Bechet as Filamena Gilea ♦ Phyllis Somerville as Grandma Fuller ♦ Elle Fanning as Daisy - Age 7 ♦ Ted Manson as Mr. Daws ♦ Clay Cullen as Young Mr. Daws ♦ Edith Ivey as Mrs. Maple ♦ Robert Towers as Benjamin 1932-34 ♦ Jared Harris as Captain Mike ♦ Sonya Leslie-Shepherd as Daisy’s Nurse ♦ Yasmine Abriel as Prostitute with Benjamin ♦ Madisen Beaty as Daisy - Age 10 ♦ Tom Everett as Benjamin 1935-37 ♦ Don Creech as Prentiss Mayes ♦ Joshua DesRoches as Rick Brody ♦ Christopher Maxwell as Vic Brody ♦ Richmond Arquette as John Grimm ♦ Josh Stewart as Pleasant Curtis ♦ Ilia Volok as Russian Interpreter ♦ Tilda Swinton as Elizabeth Abbott ♦ David Ross Paterson as Walter Abbott ♦ Taren Cunningham as Young Elizabeth Abbott ♦ Myrton Running Wolf as Dennis Smith ♦ Stephen Monroe Taylor as Sailor ♦ Devyn A. Tyler as Queenie’s Daughter - Age 14 ♦ Adrian Armas as David ♦ Wilbur Fitzgerald as TV Reporter ♦ Ashley Nolan as Woman Doctor ♦ Louis Herthum as Man at Caroline’s Party ♦ Katta Hules as Caroline - Age 12 ♦ Rus Blackwell as Robert Williams ♦ Joel Bissonnette as David Hernandez ♦ Deneen Tyler as Queenie’s Daughter - Age 40 ♦ Spencer Daniels as Benjamin Button - Age 12 ♦ Chandler Canterbury as Benjamin Button - Age 8 ♦ Charles Henry Wyson as Benjamin Button - Age 6 ♦ Jessica Cropper as Featured Dancer #1 ♦ Katherine Crockett as Featured Dancer #2 ♦ Leslie Augustine as Ballet Dancer ♦ Dewayne Bateman as Family member ♦ Megan Brown as Woman Kissing Benjamin ♦ Bianca Chiminello as Ballerina who ties up shoe lace ♦ Lauri Christi as Walk of Shame Girl ♦ Garrett Forbes as Ballet Dancer ♦ Debby Gaudet as Woman at Train Station ♦ Geraldine Glenn as Family member ♦ Victoria Goulet as Russian Barmaid ♦ Bob Harter as Man who buys Button house ♦ Tim Harvey as Soda Jerk ♦ Emily Howe as French Nurse ♦ Rhonda Huete as Button Factory Worker ♦ Christopher Karl Johnson as Medical Officer on Liberty Ship ♦ Jeffrey Scott Jones as Submarine Gunner ♦ Nadyia Jones as Loft Dancer ♦ Jonathan Lane as Usher at Theater ♦ Cynthia LeBlanc as Waitress ♦ Elton LeBlanc as Ambulance Driver ♦ Naima Imani Lett as Madame at whorehouse ♦ Jay Oliver as Nolan House Resident ♦ Lauren Swinney as Mrs. Carter - “Queeny’s dead” ♦ Autumn Withers as Dancer ♦ Brianna Womick as Ballet Dancer

Directed by: David Fincher

Written by: Eric Roth
Written by: Robin Swicord

Producer: Ceán Chaffin
Producer: Kathleen Kennedy
Producer: Frank Marshall
Associate producer: Jim Davidson
Associate producer: Marykay Powell

Original music: Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography: Claudio Miranda
Editing: Kirk Baxter ♦ Angus Wall
Casting: Laray Mayfield
Production design: Donald Graham Burt
Art direction: Tom Reta ♦ Kelly Curley
Set decoration: Victor J. Zolfo
Costume design: Jacqueline West
Production supervisor: Marc A. Hammer
Post-production supervisor: Peter Mavromates
Unit production manager: Daniel M. Stillman
Production manager (Montreal): Manon Bougie
Makeup: Heba Thorisdottir ♦ Colleen Callaghan ♦ Peter Abrahamson ♦ Martin Astles ♦ Jean Ann Black ♦ Carla Brenholtz ♦ Greg Cannom ♦ Jerry Constantine ♦ Dan Crawley ♦ John Jack Curtin ♦ Fionagh Cush ♦ Beatrice De Alba ♦ Theresa A. Fleming ♦ Zack Fox ♦ Chris Gallaher ♦ Aaron Globerman ♦ Réjean Goderre ♦ Allison Gordon ♦ Stacey L. Taniguchi ♦ Will Huff ♦ Mark Jacyszyn ♦ Jason James ♦ Susan V. Kalinowski ♦ Sean Kenney ♦ Jim Knell ♦ Natasha Ladek ♦ Raymonde Laliberté ♦ Annick Legout ♦ Harvey Lowry ♦ Christopher Xavier Lozano ♦ Brian Meck ♦ Yolanda Mercadel ♦ Donita Miller ♦ Mark Nieman ♦ Alexei O’Brien ♦ Elaine L. Offers ♦ Susan ‘Star’ Orr ♦ Art Pimentel ♦ Paige Reeves ♦ Marie Régimbald ♦ Liah Saldaña ♦ Ghislaine Sant ♦ Diane Simard ♦ Brian Sipe ♦ Donna Spahn ♦ Miles Teves ♦ Kazuhiro Tsuji ♦ Todd Tucker ♦ Shane E. Weaver ♦ Steve Winsett
Stunts: Mickey Giacomazzi ♦ Marc Désourdy ♦ Michael Arnona ♦ Richard L. Blackwell ♦ Joey Box ♦ Jeff Chumas ♦ Clay Cullen ♦ John T. Cypert ♦ Max Daniels ♦ Darrell Davis ♦ Holland Diaz ♦ Danny Downey ♦ Jayson Dumenigo ♦ Kofi Elam ♦ Jeremy Fry ♦ Jeff Galpin ♦ Kristopher Giacomazzi ♦ Sean Graham ♦ Russell M. Haeuser ♦ Zac Henry ♦ Zachary Henry ♦ Patrick Holland ♦ Richie J. Ladner ♦ Elton LeBlanc ♦ David Brian Martin ♦ Marty Murray ♦ Phi-Long Nguyen ♦ Josh Petro ♦ David Reinhart ♦ Allen Robinson ♦ Todd Schneider ♦ Craig Silva ♦ McKay Stewart ♦ Helen Stranzl ♦ Bryan Thompson ♦ Clark Tucker ♦ Keith Woulard

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