12 January 2009

The curious movie of Benjamin Button -- possible spoilers

This was one of those must-see movies for me -- mostly because of the premise. I haven't read the F Scott Fitzgerald short story that it's based on, but the premise -- a man being born old and growing younger -- sounded fascinating. It sounded a strong spec fic premise, and indeed spec fic is how I'd classify the movie (the old what if scenario), but I was sure that the way it was being presented many viewers wouldn't realise that's what it is. My mother, for example, who hates science fiction and fantasy and doesn't understand my attraction to all that "weird stuff", was very keen to see this. And certainly didn't see it as that type of movie.

The reviews were excellent so I had great hopes of enjoying this movie, but then I went out with a writer friend a few days prior to seeing it (a spec fic writer friend), and he said he walked out in the middle of it, that it was too schmaltzy for him. Hmm. Okay. So I cranked down my expectations a couple of notches, though I'm not too averse to a bit of schmaltz if it's done well.

When the story began with an aged Daisy (Cate Blanchett) in bed in a hospital in New Orleans, my heart sank. A frame story. I'm not a great one for frames because 95% of the time they add nothing to a story. And while this technically wasn't a frame, because it dipped in and out of the hospital all the way through, it worked more like a frame story than a parallel plot. It was a device used to tell the main story -- so we have Daisy's daughter reading Benjamin's diary out to the ailing Daisy. Nothing much actually happened in this storyline, and to me it could have been cut without any loss -- in fact with great gain. Sure, there was a small surprise that came out in this storyline, but it was so predictable that I guessed it within minutes of the film beginning. Yawn.

Benjamin Button's story itself was interesting, but I felt the movie's length. Very rarely do I do that -- I sat through all three Lord of the Rings movies, other longer movies like Gladiator, The Right Stuff, Australia totally caught up and entranced, not noticing how time passed. In this one, I would've been glancing at my watch had I been wearing one. It just seemed slow. Beautifully shot, beautifully made up, beautifully acted but slow. Perhaps if the frame story (yes, I'm persisting in calling it that) were cut . . .

I also got caught up in the logic of his physical appearance -- if we accepted the story's premise (which I did). He was born an old-looking baby and died a young-looking baby. I would have expected him either to be born as a little old man (and as his mother died in childbirth this would have been easy to achieve) or to die a very babyish looking old man. The physicality, the way it was presented, didn't quite work for me. Why I should get hooked up on such things is perplexing -- perhaps it's just the spec fic writer in me wanting a world with its own internal logic, which I didn't quite get here.

It is an interesting story, one worth seeing, but not one I'd hurry to watch again or hurry to buy on DVD. It's that book I buy that I long to take my blue pencil to, that I sit through interested but never fully caught up and engaged. Perhaps I should go dig out the short story and see how it compares.


SCRIBBLY said...

Thanks for that review. That does it. I'm not going to see it. My daughter went and explained a few things, but I was sort of grossed out by the thought of a husband getting younger and younger while the wife got older. The one thing my daughter took from the movie was an increase in her phobia of childbirth... which is probably a good thing at her age.

Tracey said...

I don't know -- there's something to be said for young, sexy husbands! lol.

You never know, you *might* like it. I did find it interesting -- just would have liked a bit more judicious editing.

That's a shame about your daughter, though. Still, she'll no doubt get over the fear!