I wanted the magic of Forrest Gump. With The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I got some superb acting, impressive costumes, makeup and digital effects, and myriad more elements befitting an epic best-picture nominee: Love, loss, growth, awakening, birth, death, war, catastrophe, deceit, betrayal and forgiveness spanning nearly a century are all methodically dispersed — often out of conventional order — against a visually breathtaking backdrop.
But Benjamin Button I am afraid that, while fascinating, you, sir, are no Forrest Gump.
Maybe it’s not fair to compare, but the many similarities beg for it— a hummingbird replaces the symbolic feather; a drunken tugboat captain/ tattooist serves as a lovably flawed Lieutenant Dan figure; a here-today-gone-tomorrow Daisy played by Cate Blanchett closely resembles Forrest’s Jenny; and the catch phrase issued by Button’s Mama (expertly played by Taraji P. Henson), “you never know what’s coming for ya’” is just a shorter way of saying “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”
Eric Roth, the same guy who wrote Forrest Gump wrote the adaptation of “Benjamin Button” (from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel), so the similarities are no surprise. It’s just that with such semblance as a reminder, one can’t help longing for a little more Gumpishness.
Gump was a guy who made things happen, even if passively. His life closely paralleled events that are close to our hearts—the Kennedy and Lennon assassinations; Viet Nam; desegregation; the baffling early years of the AIDS epidemic. And it didn’t hurt that Gump’s adventures were set to nostalgic tunes that were staples of their respective eras. And he was oh, so innocent.
Button’s condition is indeed curious and thought provoking — the aging Daisy and the youth-ing Benjamin, for example, both face the same fears. Hmmm. Turns out it’s scarier to grow young than to grow old.
Benjamin touches the lives of those he meets, but not with quite as much impact as Gump. The director, while composing a gorgeous and presumably accurate image of the era, doesn’t succeed at weaving historical events into the plotline in a way that yanks at the heartstrings. The soundtrack is lovely and haunting, but doesn’t have that soul wrenching effect of the strikingly familiar. Oh, and Button has no qualms about engaging in affairs with married women — he’s not exactly an innocent.
All in all, I say, SEE THIS MOVIE. It’s a Golden Globe Best Picture contender (which means it will be an Oscar contender as well). It is definitely worth the price of admission. Those who love the Jack ‘n’ Rose storyline in Titanic, but who could do without the whole boat-sinking thing, and fans of Meet Joe Black will love Benjamin Button. Others like me might find the movie very enjoyable, if lacking a certain magic. It’s not a movie many will dislike. Just do yourself and Mr. Button a favor and leave at the theater door hopes of finding another Forrest.