Friday, February 6, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Boredom

I don't watch a lot of Oscar-nominated films, but the ones that I do see, at least the more recent ones, usually leave me feeling hollow inside. I saw most of Shakespeare in Love and didn't get the appeal. I saw Chicago and thought that it was average. Anyhow, as the Oscars are notorious for getting it WRONG, I shouldn't have been too surprised that the two best films that I saw last year didn't get nominated for best picture (in case you're wondering, I'm referring to the crowd-pleasing Wall-E and The Dark Knight). The film that got the most nominations, however, leaves me feeling truly baffled, as I don't understand why it did. I'm referring to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but before I talk about that, a little background:

The director of TCCOBB is David Fincher, a man who's pumped out some gritty films that I've loved. These include Seven, The Game, Fight Club, and the delightful Panic Room. I loved his dark style and how the plots to his films are usually mind-fucks. I haven't seen Zodiac, but I've heard that it was also pretty good. I try to take note of certain directors, and use them as an indicator as to whether or not I should go see a movie. In fact, as interested as I am in the story of Harvey Milk, I refuse to see the also Oscar-nominated film Milk because it was directed by Gus Van Sant, a man who created two of the biggest pieces of shit I've ever had the misfortune of viewing (Last Days and Psycho, if you're interested). When I heard that Fincher directed TCCOBB, I figured that at the very least, I would be entertained. Hell, I even liked Alien 3, which he directed, and almost everyone else hates it.

The first warning sign should have been that the screenplay was written by Eric Roth. This man wrote Forest Gump, which was a good, entertaining movie, but had an underlying philosophy that I found loathsome. He also wrote Ali, The Horse Whisperer, and The Insider, films that I have no intention of ever seeing. Before seeing the film I read that he wrote it, but I figured that since his other films haven't really been considered terrible (except for The Postman), then TCCOBB would at least have a decent script.

Another thing that should have sent up a warning sign was that the website Film Threat gave it a negative review. Most movie dorks have their own personal reviewers that they go to for advice on what to see. I choose Film Threat. Sure, they've steered me wrong in the past (Clerks 2), but most of the time they're on the money. I also questioned the film when I found out that Roger Ebert disliked it. I don't follow Ebert as closely as I do Film Threat, and I know he's made some real asinine recommendations, but I still agree with him most of the time. In fact, to this day I haven't read a glowing review of TCCOBB, but it's not like I've actively gone out seeking one.

Anyhow, I finally saw this film. The only thing I can compare my reaction to is when I went to Starbucks and ordered their Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, and they told me that they ran out of salt. I ordered it anyway and it tasted average. It was not the mind-blowing delicious flavor that I was accustomed to. Thus, TCCOBB was NOT the delicious Fincher flavor that I was accustomed to, and I can't help but wonder why the fuck this movie got so many Oscar nods. I mean, shitty movies have been nominated in the past, but this one really floors me. Aside from the well-known fact that this nearly three-hour opus is an excellent cure for insomnia, there's nothing at all special about this film. It has a neat plot, but the title character is such an uninteresting bore that the film just falls to pieces. You can't have a character study with a main character that is impossible to either like or hate. I mean, I truly don't understand how the viewer could possibly LIKE Benjamin. He doesn't do anything of note; he just reacts to what's going on around him. At least Forest Gump was a likeable idiot. Benjamin is just some borderline retarded old man for half the film, then turns into an uninteresting middle aged man, then turns into a teen, and during all these years of his life he doesn't actually DO anything which would make the viewer care about him.


Others have pointed this out before, but I'll repeat that the film's structure is also a little too close to Forest Gump for comfort. That won't bother most people, so if the idea of a 2 1/2 hour Forest Gump with a reverse-aging freak and without the snappy tunes appeals to you, then you might like this film. I also disliked the audience-manipulating death of Benjamin. I know that it was unavoidable, but still, seeing a baby die is pretty damn manipulative, I don't care how plot-relevant it is.

One last complaint. The way the story is framed is completely unnecessary. The dying woman in the hospital stands as one of the most excruciatingly annoying characters I've had to deal with in a film, and this has to do solely with her voice. My girlfriend and I both cringed every time she opened her mouth and wheezed out more of her deathbed crap. These scenes could have been snipped out and the film would not have changed too much, except for the lame "Oh my goodness, Benjamin is my father!" revelation falling into the trash bin.

By the way, speaking of filler, I saw My Fair Lady and thought that it was OK, except for Eliza's father. That character could have been completely removed, and the film not only would have flowed better, but it would have been much shorter, too. I don't know why they gave a completely unnecessary character the longest songs. But I digress.

I have nothing else to say about this film, except that it is probably the worst film I've even seen get nominated for so many Oscars. I've heard that Crash is a real piece of shit, but I'll never know because I'm never going to watch it. Also, because the two best films that I saw last year weren't nominated for best picture, I'll once again avoid watching this annual orgy of back-patting and smirking. I don't know who's hosting, but I don't see how anyone can pump any kind of excitement into yet another uninspired collection of films. Ah well. Perhaps next year.

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