Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Really Long Case of Benjamin Button

Okay, so I admit it - I've never read "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." But like every other other English major in the world, I have read The Great Gatsby, and based on that, I'm guessing that F. Scott Fitzgerald is turning summersaults in his grave.

First of all, when we did we become so politically correct that we have to "improve" the work of our greatest writers? I mean, let's face it, the 20's were not a time of great racial equality. The Great Gatsby is full of offensive names and racial slurs because at that time in our nation's history, we had a far less enlightened view of racial diversity. So, so some genius in Hollywood thought they should give old Ben Button a black foster mother to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy? And what's with the tie-in between Fitzgerald's story and Hurricane Katrina? I know we all like to read great literature and see profound parallels with modern times, but does that give us the right to bastardize great works of literature to further our own political and social ends? I, for one, say no.

My own purist concerns aside, however, the film has other problems. The first 20 to 30 minutes feel more like an hour, and when a movie is already pushing 3 hours, the viewer really feels the slow parts. Then there is the leading man. I will be the first to say that Brad Pitt is a wonderful actor and, let's face it, beautiful, but the filmmakers felt the need to really work the female viewer angle. I lost count on the number of gratuitous shots of Brad Pitt zooming along on his motorcycle or Brad Pitt staring meaningfully into Cate Blanchett's eyes.

I could have taken most of the above complaints in stride, however, if not for one thing: the modern portion of the story. First there is the old woman telling the story. She did everything but throw the Heart of the Ocean into the the water. Did the screenwriter really think the audience was that stupid and unable to detect unoriginality? Then there was the blind acceptance of a man living backwards. Julia Ormond's only question is one measly little, "Did this really happen?" While I can forego my disbelief for Fitzgerald's created world, I have a hard time swallowing its intersection with the world in which I actually live. If some dying old woman told me my father lived backwards, I would call for the nurse to up her morphine, not dig through her belongings for postcards.

Despite all of this, though, the movie isn't unwatchable. Brad Pitt can act, and Cate Blanchett is beautiful and moving. If the filmmakers had left the story alone and skipped the modern-day tie-in, it could have really been something. The cinematography and score are lovely, and the acting is solid. I just would have waited for the DVD rather than going to the theater had there not been so much Oscar buzz. At least watching at home, I could have spent the three hours on my sofa, in my pajamas, with a pause button.

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