Monday, January 19, 2009

Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Possible Spoiler Alert: I know I’m probably the last person to see this movie but just in case you haven’t seen it, I suggest you come back after you do.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Released: December 25, 2008 (US), January 8, 2009 (RP)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

It is quite common to see a movie that tries to fit in a plethora of themes into two hours of film. It is not so common to see it done successfully. Every now and then though, a movie like this comes out. Though it seems we’re past the point where nothing that ever comes out seems new anymore, somebody somewhere manages to pull a refreshingly sweet story out of thin air.

I tried my best not to expect too much out of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Everyone knows when you expect too much out of a movie, you only set yourself up for failure. I pressed my palms to my ears and hummed whenever people talked about it and I hardly read any reviews for it. I wanted to appreciate the movie in the way that it was meant to be seen, untainted by any opinions that could influence mine. Still (with what little I could not filter out), I only heard praises for the movie. A bucket of White Cheese Popcorn in one hand and an open mind in the other, I watched the story of Benjamin Button come to life.

The movie is loosely based on a 1921 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Narrating is Caroline, a woman caring for her dying mother in the midst of Hurricane Katrina. Through postcards, pictures and an aging diary, she tells the story of Benjamin Button, a man who lived his life backwards. Born an old man (with matching wrinkles and cataracts), he grows younger and younger as the movie progresses. Tied to his story is a dancer named Daisy Fuller. As logic has it, they will only be the same age at one point in their lives and they are forced to see their love through an ever changing age gap. They somehow manage to live through all the odds together, proving the existence of love to even the most jaded of the skeptics.

Ten years ago, I would’ve waited for this move to come out on video so I could watch all the good parts again, rewind it and write down all my favorite lines. Today, all you have to do is trust good old IMDB. Before I start with my review, here are a few of my favorite lines from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

“Your life is defined by its opportunities... even the ones you miss.”

“We're meant to lose the people we love. How else would we know how important they are to us?”

“(To Caroline) For what it's worth, it's never too late, or in my case too early - to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit; stop whenever you want. You can change, or stay the same - there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

“Along the way you bump into people who make a dent on your life. Some people get struck by lightning. Some are born to sit by a river. Some have an ear for music. Some are artists. Some swim the English Channel. Some know buttons. Some know Shakespeare. Some are mothers. And some people can dance.”

This movie touches on so many different things and it amazed me how effortlessly these themes were woven together. War, youth, beauty, fatherhood, life, death and love all seem to work hand in hand like old friends meeting for lunch.

I last saw Brad Pitt in the Coen Brothers “comedy” Burn After Reading. He played an annoyingly dumb gym trainer caught in an ambitious ploy to blackmail an ex-CIA agent. Nothing about that movie was funny and the only thing I wanted to burn after was the crummy DVD I bought. Needless to say, I was really disappointed and I wondered if he had finally lost his edge.

In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, we see him in top form. It actually reminds me of the Brad Pitt of yore in movies like Legends of the Fall (also with Julia Ormond) and Interview with the Vampire except that now, he has a more mature and ripe air to him. Although the prosthetics in the movie were close to perfect, makeup can only do so much. It is his acting prowess that adds credibility to the story and makes the character come to life.

Another wonderful treat is Tilda Swinton who was also in Burn After Reading but is best remembered as the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia. In this movie, she is anything but cold in a brief but integral role as Elizabeth Abbott. When she finally reaches for her dream at age 67, I felt the dreamer in me come to life. It’s never too late to start living your life. (On a less serious note I must say, is it just me or does she look like an older, paler Cate Blanchett?)

Cate Blanchett is always a sight to behold. After seeing Notes on a Scandal, it became one of my favorite movies and she, one of my favorite actresses. In this movie, she totally breaks the mold. While there is no doubt she is a wonderful actress, you could say casting her might have gone against the stereotype. There are many wonderful actresses who could’ve been in this movie but it’s very clear why she is Benjamin’s Daisy. All at once she is strong and fragile, an innocent and a temptress, an enchanting paradox. She delivers lines and expressions with such breathtaking ease that for a minute you forget she is Cate and not Daisy- something not a lot of actresses can pull off.

The movie is close to three hours long but it still feels very short. It’s a beautiful story and by the time the end credits started rolling, I noticed there wasn’t a dry eye in the whole theater. It’s a movie I’d like to see again soon and I can only hope that this would be a nice preview to the kinds of movies this year has in store.