Deborah Ross

Still stood time

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button <br /> 12A, Nationwide

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

12A, Nationwide

The most curious thing about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is that it could receive 13 Oscar nominations when it is such tedious schmaltz, and not just any tedious schmaltz. This is the worst kind of tedious schmaltz; the kind that doesn’t even have the decency or good manners to go on for only 90 minutes or so. This tedious schmaltz is 165 minutes. This tedious schmaltz should have been taken outside and given a good talking to within the first five minutes. (Just pack it in, will you?) The story, here, is all to do with time not behaving as it’s supposed to and I’m telling you, an hour in you are going to think time has actually stopped. I know I did. The only thing it brings to the party, aside from its tedious, schmaltzy self, is a succession of characters who would be fascinating if they weren’t all such types: the kindly black momma; the drunken Irish sea captain; the sex-starved yet married English woman. This last stereotype always gets me. I am a married English woman and I am not sex-starved. Heck, as it is, my husband and I are even planning on having a twosome one of these days. (I’m nervous, but quite excited, too.)

Adapted from a slender, F. Scott Fitzgerald short story with a screenplay by Eric Roth who, amazingly, also wrote Forrest Gump, and directed by David Fincher who, amazingly, also directed Fight Club and Panic Room, it is about a man who is born old and then ages backwards, gets younger and younger until he becomes as gloriously handsome as the Brad Pitt who plays him and then declines back towards infancy and death. It’s the sort of tale that requires not so much that you suspend belief, more that you whack it out of sight for all time, and, being a literal minded person of almost no imagination — this is why, fantasy wise, the twosome is such a big step for me — it’s already not exactly my kind of thing. However, it could have worked, had it ever snapped to life, but it doesn’t. It just goes on and on and on and on and on and on. And on. You may even shake your watch to check it is still going. I know I did.

Anyway, to cut an indecently long story short — for which you should worship me and take me out to dinner and then leave me all your money — it opens in 1918 and the night Benjamin, the ugliest, most wrinkled baby you ever did see, is born and then rightly (who wouldn’t?) abandoned by his father on the steps of a New Orleans retirement home where he is taken in by Queenie, the kindly black momma who works there. Next, he grows the opposite of up in the home — down? — before setting off on a variety of tiresome adventures: going to sea with that mad Irish captain (Jared Harris, chewing scenery like there is no tomorrow or the day after), having an affair with the frustrated English woman (Tilda Swinton) and eventually, when down to about 40ish, falling in love with a normally ageing dancer, Daisy (Cate Blanchett). They meet in the middle, I guess you could say. I guess I should also say that the technological achievements — the ageing effects as achieved digitally with CGI — are fantastic, but the film is so pleased with itself about this it thinks it can get away with not being much else.

Pitt, as Benjamin, doesn’t speak very much and is very Forrest Gumpish, but when he does speak, in his lazy southern drawl, says nothing of interest whatsoever. The best thing about Pitt, I suppose, is that he shows what a great actor Tom Hanks is. Hanks might have been able to carry a film like this. Hanks can dramatise thought with his face. Pitt cannot. Whether he is playing Pitt the Older or Pitt the Younger he is just a bland, empty shell. Handsome is as handsome does and it don’t do nothing here. Meanwhile, the script provides no insights into ageing or death, preferring, instead, to heap homily on homily, as in: ‘You can swear and curse fate but when the time comes to the end you have to let go.’ Like you have a choice? Thanks for the offer, but I’m not quite ready yet? Come back in a few years and we’ll see where we are then, OK? Bye, now.

The other curious thing about The Curious Case is that no one is curious at all. Not Benjamin, who never questions what is happening to him, nor his adoptive ma, nor the drunken Irish sea captain, nor anyone at all. When he returns from sea looking like Brad Pitt and re-meets Daisy, who last saw him when she was a child and he was old, she says, ‘How are you? Such a long time. I want to hear about everything.’ She doesn’t say, ‘Stone me, what the bloody hell is going on here? I’m spooked, man.’ Considering Benjamin lives until 2003, when he dies as an 85-year-old baby, you’d think medical science would have tipped up at some point, and the National Enquirer...but? Not a squeak.

So, 13 Oscar nominations, yet best avoided. What to do instead? You could, I suppose, stay in and have a twosome. I can’t speak personally, but have heard they can be fun.