The movie, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, chronicles the story of a man who was born backwards. As an infant he had the body of a 90 year old man, with severe arthritis and other infirmities, as well as a wrinkled and ugly exterior. That led his father to take the baby and, after initially flirting with throwing him in the river, leaves him on the stairs of an old-folks home in New Orleans. The woman who takes care of the home’s residents takes the baby as her own and cares for the child as he grows, slowly becoming more youthful looking the older he gets. Benjamin has all sorts of dramatic experiences through his life as well as a long-lasting love, one that only culminates when he’s in his 40’s, finally looking about the age he actually is.
The problem is that the movie never looses a sense of being extraordinarily heavy-handed. Every single line, every camera angle, every motion of the actors (primarily Brad Pitt as the title character and Cate Blanchett as the love of his life) all arrive at the eyes and ears of the viewer with a massive, overly earnest THUD. Everything seems so calculated that there’s never any sense of movement, a problem when the movie is dependent on “movement” being an over-arching theme, whether it’s of time or of the body.
Also afflicting Benjamin Button is the same sort of thing that afflicts many movies that span decades. The story skips over years and years in just a couple minutes while spending half an hour on a particular moment or series of moments. But the characters only seem to undergo any sort of change or evolution when the film slows down. We watch Pitt and Blanchett have a 20 minute meeting in real time and then it’s six years before they see each other again. But the characters haven’t changed at all – at least not emotionally – in that six years. Their character arcs are only defined by the moments we view in detail. Like I said that’s not a problem that’s unique to Button but it’s frustrating nonetheless.
There’s a case to be made for seeing Benjamin Button, to be sure. There’s been so much hype and press about the film and its sizable technical achievements that I’d encourage people to check it out and judge for themselves. For me though it just didn’t work through a combination of being overly long, overly earnest and not nearly entertaining or interesting enough to sustain my attention throughout or actually make me care about the people I’m watching.