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A Box of Chocolates Is Like Life

MOVIE REVIEW
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

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Merrick Morton/Paramount Pictures

Like Danny Boyle, David Fincher is a filmmaker whose stylish sensibility almost always leaves moviegoers cold. But also like Mr. Boyle, Mr. Fincher has this year stumbled upon a movie with a heart and excelled. Based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” would most likely have been a horrific, vomit-inducing train wreck in the hands of a Steven Spielberg or a Ron Howard. The aging-backward premise notwithstanding, the film is basically “Forrest Gump” meets “Legends of the Fall” meets “Meet Joe Black,” complete with Gumpian historical anecdotes (Teddy Roosevelt instead of JFK this time!) courtesy of “Gump” screenwriter Eric Roth. Thank goodness Mr. Fincher has the clinical precision of a music video director, and here counterbalances the otherwise go-for-broke sappiness of all the separations and deaths in the “Benjamin Button” screenplay.

One troubling thing is the pedophile overtone that runs throughout the film. When the title character played by Brad Pitt and his childhood sweetheart Daisy (Madisen Beaty) first meet and duck underneath a tablecloth way past their bedtime, he looks like he is old enough to be her grandpa. The teenage Benjamin – who looks to be about 60 – encounters Captain Mike (Jared Harris), who takes him to a New Orleans brothel where a Lady Marmalade vous couche avec lui ce soir. Later the Brad-circa.-“Thelma & Louise”-esque Benjamin reunites with Daisy when she is played by Cate Blanchette, and she seduces him like Mrs. Robinson did Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin in “The Graduate.” Needless to say, “Benjamin Button” is yucky from beginning to end if this sort of thing isn’t your cup of tea.

We’ve grown used to Mr. Pitt’s limited acting ability by now, but he is actually quite impressive here – although that may very well be because he apparently shares the role of Benjamin with seven other actors. The most outstanding performance not involving latex is actually the one by Taraji P. Henson – who is best known as the hooker that sang the hook on “It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp” in “Hustle & Flow” – as Benjamin’s adoptive mother, Queenie. Ms. Henson and Tilda Swinton as Benjamin’s icy paramour are so transfixing here that nothing else in the film seems remotely memorable.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON

Opens on Dec. 25 in the United States and on Feb. 6, 2009 in Britain.

Directed by David Fincher; written by Eric Roth, based on a screen story by Mr. Roth and Robin Swicord and the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald; director of photography, Claudio Miranda; edited by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Donald Graham Burt; produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Cean Chaffin; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 47 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Brad Pitt (Benjamin Button), Cate Blanchett (Daisy), Taraji P. Henson (Queenie), Julia Ormond (Caroline), Jason Flemyng (Thomas Button), Elias Koteas (Monsieur Gateau), Tilda Swinton (Elizabeth Abbott) and Jared Harris (Captain Mike).

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