Overview: Benjamin Button is born with a disease that causes him to age in reverse. Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures. 2008. Rated PG-13. 166 Minutes.
Strengths: When Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born, he is aged to the level of an eighty year old man, and as he grows older, his body becomes increasingly younger. The special effects and makeup used to create the de-aging process are exceptional, and realistic enough that viewers will never notice a difference between the portions of the process created by special effects and those created by makeup. Benjamin’s transformation from a short, wrinkled old man to a strapping middle-aged man is a drastic one, but one that never loses Pitt’s traceable facial structure, allowing the viewer constant recognition.
Weaknesses: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button covers Benjamin’s entire life, so naturally it takes considerable screen time to cover that span. But the film doesn’t stay interesting enough to earn a runtime of nearly three hours. Following Benjamin through his life is so tedious that viewers feel as if we have aged (or de-aged) as much as Benjamin does. As an adolescent, Benjamin has issues standing and walking due to his condition, and afterwards viewers sympathize, exhibiting similar issues because our legs are stiff from waiting for the film to end.
An Uneasy Feeling: This film makes me feel uneasy. The situations it presents dealing with love and relationships are full of odd images and circumstances. Watching the physically old/cognitively adolescent version of Benjamin interacting with a young girl named Daisy (and subsequently falling in love with her) is just disturbing, even if she is technically of near-equal age. The older version of Daisy (Cate Blanchett) is then romantically involved with the physically younger/cognitively older version of Benjamin. Again, this is creepy. There is a period when both approach middle age and cross paths in their aging timeline, but the images of the two extremes of the spectrum are so overtly disruptive that they overshadow any semblance of age normality in the relationship.
A Comparison: The construct of this movie is far too similar to another movie with which I take unpopular issue: Forrest Gump. Both screenplays are written by Eric Roth and have lead characters with unique circumstances that make them different. And both overstay their welcome by stretching the narrative through the influence of ostentatious and sometimes real life events. Forrest fights in Vietnam, meets the President, gives a speech at a Washington Monument rally, and jogs across the country. Benjamin is born at the close of World War I, joins the war after Pearl Harbor, interacts with the first woman to swim the English Channel, and has his story read and told by his daughter as Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans. The two films present these broad and grandiose events as if they give an extra layer of meaning behind the character’s lives, but they ultimately serve as expository filler and an attempt at manipulation of viewers’ sentiments.