This was hauled as the year’s last great film. Well, since 2008 didn’t have any great films to begin with, the description is probably fitting. The problem is: this movie is really bad. Its overall poor quality is exacerbated by its incredible pretentiousness and a slew of cheap tearjerkers. And it’s three hours long. Three hours of nothing. Let’s capture the gist of this movie. In the American South a child is born who is very different from others.
He lives through the defining moments of American history. He is raised without father. He goes to war, where he loses a friend. He goes sailing. He is separated from his girlfriend, he chases her, she runs away with a Bohemian. He then fathers a child with her and is then separated from her again. There are TV chronicles and countless funerals. Wait a minute! This looks like… that’s right, just like “Forrest Gump.” In fact, this movie could almost be a remake of “Forrest Gump,” had it had some original ideas of the former. But it doesn’t have any original ideas. While Forrest Gump is the “Man of the Era” who influences and inspires everybody he comes in contact with, Benjamin Button, while interacting with a lot of people, doesn’t in fact do anything. His story is meaningless other than having a simple curious physiological aspect to it. Just like the title says: it’s “curious,” but nothing more.
What is mumbled out in the last ten minutes of the movie are utter banalities that I can’t be forced to recite. One “novel” idea presented is that our lives are ruled by chains of events beyond our control. If only a certain man was not fired from his job, if only a cabbie didn’t get his cup of coffee, if only… and so on, and so forth, then the girl would not get hit by a car, ending her dancing career. The only thing these brilliant movie-makers forgot to mention: if only that girl looked around before crossing the street, she would have seen the damn car! But, of course, that would not be dramatic enough. Plus: why was Benjamin even reciting all those events? How did he know every small coincidence that led to the accident? The movie has many incomprehensive pretentious moments like this. It’s hollow, much more hollow than typical H’wood movies that don’t have the same pomposity and therefore aren’t as bloated.
“Button” has little of “Gump”’s charm and none of its wit. Except the main plot “innovation”, which wears out after about one-third of the film (once Brad Pitt starts to look like Brad Pitt), there is nothing to keep me interested. Plus, of course, the complete incredulity of the plot! I’m not talking about the main premise: I can make one major assumption like this. But to imagine that a woman was taking care of an aging man for years and her own daughter would not know is plain unbelievable.
But it’s the blatant tear-jerking that infuriates me the most. There are several death close-ups here: Benjamin’s father, his boat’s captain, his foster mother, and, of course, himself, his love, and, almost certainly, his daughter. Two deaths in the finale are simply disgusting: death of Benjamin as an infant (child’s death is always guaranteed to score the sobs) and the “Hurricane Katrina in the hospital” scene. The exploitation of the national tragedy that is so fresh in people’s minds is not justified in the least here and is nothing but a cheap gimmick. The humor is equally retarded: the “I was hit by a lightning seven times” line is, in fact, delivered seven times. Naturally, every time it causes roars of laughter from children of all ages in the audience.
Again, much like in “Gump,” the movie’s best scene is the war moment (a boat fighting and ramming the submarine), and its greatest strength is the special effects, only this time it’s not Lt. Dan’s legs, but Button’s wrinkles. Pitt, Blanchett, and Swinton are all excellent actors, but the chemistry between them is spotty at best, and the plot completely kills them, effectively wasting their talents.
Verdict: long, tedious, self-righteous “Forrest Gump” rip-off, offering not a shred of intelligence but plenty of cheap emotionality. Avoid at all costs. If you must see it, wait until it’s on Lifetime. D+