An epic that won’t weigh you down

from, 12/29/08

buttonThe sweeping Pitt/Blanchett Christmas blockbuster is generating big Oscar buzz, but most of the buzz I heard during the show was generated by a uniformly gray-haired crowd, striving to explain to one another what was going on. As the show progressed, they inched ever closer to the screen in hopes that they might catch Benjamin Button’s curious reverse-aging disease (or at least their spouses would).

But you don’t have to be geriatric to enjoy Button’s saga. Even the pure visual spectacle was enough to hold my attention for the 2 hour and 55 minute running time. If no one else is a shoe-in for the Oscar, Pitt’s makeup artist certainly has it nailed down. He presents us a very convincing 70-year-old Pitt at the start and subtly freshens him, taking him past the youthful lad he was in 1992’s A River Runs Through It to a scrawny teenager (who, being Brad Pitt, still gets laid). Cate Blanchett’s aging is almost as impressive, and the cinematography is full of sweeping historical panoramas, softly lit, but not quite to the schmaltzy saturation of Titanic.

There are many occasions when the film veers close to Titanic-itis, but pulls back just in time. Weighty goodbyes occur without climax. An ending sequence that I worried would close with a platitude was in fact elegantly short. A series of amusing bit characters and vignettes helps to keep the film’s tone bright. The best is Mr. Daws (Ted Manson), who tells Button of the seven times he’s been struck by lightning, with illustration.

The film certainly has its faults. Button is far too perfect and innocent. The peachy relations between blacks and whites in 1920’s New Orleans are similarly delusional. Blanchett’s Daisy in her young dancer days seems a bit too insipid for Button, or anyone, to truly pine for, and the pounding of Hurricane Katrina as Daisy lies on her death bed clutters without adding any significance.

Still, director David Fincher and the talented cast maintain a light touch throughout Button’s marathon length. The resulting film may not make you any younger but, like a few glasses of good red wine, it will leave you feeling pleasantly warm and whimsical about life. It’s a welcome feeling.


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