There are worse ways to waste time than staring at Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt for close to three hours, but the beauty of the two stars is about the best thing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has going for it. Too long and too shallow, the movie comes off as a curious amalgam of Forrest Gump meets Titanic (or so says my wife).
I’m a huge fan of Forrest Gump. Hell, I’m a huge fan of sappy story lines, but the problem with Benjamin Button is that it’s all surface. No relationships are explored in depth, no emotional connections made with the characters. Opportunity after opportunity is passed up to explore loss, to probe deeper. Say what you will about Forrest Gump, but I think his relationship with Bubba is fucking touching. When Bubba got killed in the shit, it was all I could do not to cry. And there were times when I wondered if Forrest and Jenny would ever get together.
There aren’t any such moments in Benjamin Button — and that sort of pisses me off. I like Brad Pitt. Like the way he looks. Like the way he sounds. He even put on a passable New Orleans accent (though it sounded a little too much like Justin Williams at times). And Cate Blanchett, who is normally gorgeous, was stunning in this movie. I felt guilty, sitting there next to my wife with the drool hanging out. It could have been a better movie (or at least a shorter one), but it wasn’t. Finally, the frame structure — something I’m never a fan of — involving Hurricane Katrina was almost as cheap and stupid as the humming bird symbolism.
As far as Marley and Me is concerned, the movie could have done with a lot more pooch and a lot less people. The overall problem, though, wasn’t the story, but rather the stars. Chalk it up to too much tabloid publicity, but I didn’t feel like I was watching John and Jennifer Grogan. For the first fifteen minutes, I felt like I was watching that poor Jennifer Aniston and that funny-nosed fellow who tried to kill himself. It does start to work after a while, but you never do get much of the madcap antics promised by the book or the trailers. I’m sure there were a lot of little kids in the theater bored out of their skulls by the family drama. Alan Arkin was pretty damn funny as Arnie Klein and there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Dave Barry. (He’s on the right hand side of the screen during the surprise party.)
Speaking of surprises, Marley — as all dogs d0 — dies at the end of the movie as he does in the book. In a very drawn-out scene, Marley is put down. And if that sounds like a mawkish, tear-jerking bit of drama, it certainly is. But it’s the sort of emotion people expect from their movies.
Marley and Me isn’t going to win any awards, but it probably develops its characters and delves into emotions that were only passing fancies in Benjamin Button.