I had wanted to see this movie since it came out on XMas day, but I never got around to it until last night. I have to say the movie was about what I expected, though as far as tear-jerker love stories go it didn't jerk any tears out of me.
(Perhaps in honor of the titular character I should write my review backwards.)
That is all.
(Metacritic score: 69)
(My score: 3/4 stars)
I was disappointed that the movie sort of cops out near the end, though if it didn't they probably would have needed an extra half-hour to the two-and-a-half-hour running time, though this could have been offset by eliminating the needless narrative framing device of the daughter Caroline and a mummified-looking Daisy in the hospital with Benjamin's diary. I hope I'm not giving too much away when I say a convenient case of senility takes some of the dramatic punch out of the last fifteen minutes or so, not to mention it was shot in a montage which certainly didn't help.
Otherwise, the problem was I didn't really get any emotional charge out of this film. Whenever there's supposed to be an epic/tragic love story like this or "Titanic" you hope to feel a little something, but I was left empty this time around. A lot of this I think is that I never really warmed to Cate Blanchett's Daisy. As a young, aspiring dancer she always seemed like such a selfish brat and then later she becomes more of a whiny brat. Benjamin probably deserved someone better to serve as his fair Penelope along his strange odyssey. (On a side note, I had a twinge of feminism at Daisy being a ballet dancer. I'm not sure why but the thought occurred to me that this was a safe, stereotypical occupation for a woman. Other than the Englishwoman who attempts to swim the English Channel really none of the female characters do anything outside what you might consider "normal" female roles: maid, dancer, wife, mother. That's probably not wrong, but it might have been nice if the filmmakers had done something a little more daring. I'm just saying.) Well anyway, I didn't find any part of the story that really engaged me emotionally, though the movie wasn't boring or dumb; I was just hoping for more. I'm selfish that way.
OK, now for the plot summary, which I should do in proper order since otherwise it would be kind of pointless. The "Curious Case" part of the title refers to that in New Orleans in 1918 (the day WWI ended) a woman gives birth to a very wrinkled baby suffering from arthritis and so forth like that of an 85-year-old man. The woman dies giving birth and her terrified husband dumps the baby on the doorstep of a retirement home. The black maid named Queenie finds the baby on the steps and because of her strong belief in God (which didn't seem strong enough to compel her marry the caretaker who later knocks her up) takes the boy in and names him Benjamin.
It's convenient he ends up in an old folks home because he looks so much like an old person. If you haven't figured it out yet, Benjamin is aging backwards, starting as an old man and heading backwards to infancy. A similar thing was done I think on "Mork and Mindy" back in the '70s.
After a few years of being generally content in the nursing home, Benjamin meets the future love of his life, Daisy, who at the time is five years old while Benjamin appears to be in his late '70s. Daisy is fascinated rather than horrified by Benjamin and so they become friends, playing together whenever Daisy comes to visit her grandmother.
Eventually Benjamin is well enough to go down to the docks, where he gets a job on a tug boat for the rascally captain Clark. The captain arranges Benjamin's first sexual experience in a brothel, which inadvertantly leads to Benjamin coming into contact with his father. Benjamin enjoys working on the tug boat and at 17/68 goes off with the boat to Florida and later Murmansk, USSR. There in the cold of Russia, Benjamin finds his second sexual experience and first real love in a diplomat's wife who once tried to swim the English Channel. They become lovers under strict rules that her husband never find out; Benjamin is just her elderly boy toy, which seems odd since this is long before Viagra.
After the affair, Benjamin and the tug boat are conscripted into the US Navy as part of the war effort. There's an encounter with a U-Boat before Benjamin is sent home, where he encounters a more grownup Daisy. She's going off to New York to become a ballet dancer and tries to sleep with Benjamin before she goes, though he rebuffs her.
When Benjamin does go to New York to see her a few years later, he finds that she's with another man, one who's aging normally and thus looks about her same age. So the lovers are torn apart once again, but you know in a story like this it won't be for long. They're destined to be together. That presents many challenges in itself, as you'd expect with people aging normally, let alone someone aging backwards.
In between all this is the narrative device used to frame the story. This involves an elderly Daisy dying in a hospital with her daughter by her side as Hurricane Katrina approaches. This didn't really do much for me as it seemed like more of a distraction than anything. At least when they did this in "Forrest Gump" it was entertaining.
As Forrest would say, that's all I gotta say about that.
On another side note, a movie I'm hoping eventually to see is the adaptation of "The Time Traveler's Wife" that follows similar themes about quirks in time and doomed lovers. That movie was originally slated to come out XMas 2008, but was pushed back. Oddly enough that movie is produced by Brad Pitt, star of "Benjamin Button." Hmmmmm, fancy that.