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Furious Case of Benjamin Bashin’

January 28, 2009

Okay, I know I’ve already hinted at my growing disdain toward The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in this post, but in this entry, I’m going to dig a little deeper.

Let me preface this rant by stating in no way or form am I holding this increasingly steaming pile of doo against David Fincher, Brad Pitt, or Cate Blanchett.  I hold no ill will toward any of the supporting players, the producers, or the studios.  This one is 100% against Eric Roth – the writer – and the scam he perpetuated on this production.

To begin – I liked Forrest Gump.  A lot.  I saw it in an advance screening way before all the hype, and it surprised and moved me.  My sister, Becky, makes this silent crying face that’s reminiscent of the Predator when she watches emotional films (like Steel Magnolias, ‘natch ), and I’ll never forget the middle-aged man sitting next to me making love to his tonic and gin who was sobbing uncontrollably by the film’s end and making the same face.

Stop crying, Becky... it's not that sad.

Stop crying, Becky... it's not that sad.

And I’ll even go as far to say that Roth deserved the Oscar for that adaptation (I’ll add that his Munich script was really intense).  I read the original novel by Winston Groom, and the streamlining of themes and the adventures through modern history and pop culture were welcome additions/changes.

But then we come to Button.  WTF.  When I first watched the film, I kept thinking that it reminded me of Gump, but at the time, I didn’t know it was the same screenwriter.  Besides noticing that, the modern day intercutting distracted from the flow of Button’s tale, and brought little more to the story than what could have been accomplished in three scenes:

  • “I didn’t know he said that.”
  • “I didn’t know he thought that.”
  • “Oh yeah – he’s your daddy.”

I also kept wondering if Pitt felt bad for Julia Ormond, the Once-Upon-A-Time-It-Girl who costarred with him in Legends of the Fall, so he had her scenes expanded to the point of pointlessness, but that’s besides the, um, point.

The greatest issue I have with Button is that the script borrows so liberally from Gump’s tropes.  (Check out the video in this post for further illustration.)  And whereas the Gump script was at least based on the novel, the Button script is based on the Gump script.  Just replace simple with backwards aging.

My other issues:

  • The original short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald does not take place in New Orleans, but in Baltimore.  Was this a Roth call, or Pitt call (since he’s done so much charity work after Hurricane Katrina)?  Who knows…
  • In the original, Benjamin is born a full-grown, shrivelled-up old man who can speak and walk (the logistics of his birth are never brought up).  His father does not abandon him;  in fact, he works rather diligently at treating him like he is a baby, buying him toys, feeding him only milk.  Benjamin instead takes up smoking Havana cigars and reading encyclopedias.  An excerpt:

The cool perspiration redoubled on Mr. Button’s forehead. He closed his eyes, and then, opening them, looked again. There was no mistake–he was gazing at a man of threescore and ten–a baby of threescore and ten, a baby whose feet hung over the sides of the crib in which it was reposing.

The old man looked placidly from one to the other for a moment, and then suddenly spoke in a cracked and ancient voice. “Are you my father?” he demanded.

  • As Benjamin goes through his life in the story, he regresses and shrinks in size.  This is okay because he starts out large.  In the film, he’s an elderly baby that grows.  Shouldn’t he die a large size baby?  (Thanks to Brandon for catching that one!)
  • The love story isn’t the primary focus of the original, which is a fine addition to the film.  But there still might be a problem (via io9):

In fact, the Button movie has one crucial similarity to Andrew Sean Greer’s 2004 novel, The Confessions Of Max Tivoli: they’re both structured as a love story. In both works, a man who’s born old and ages backwards falls in love as a child. And he loves the same woman for his entire lifetime. And in both the Greer novel and the new movie, the man and the woman connect at three different stages of their lives, as he grows younger and she grows older.

  • The original almost seems more tragic (and mines more humor) from his familial relations.  They are always around him.  When he’s an old toddler – he befriends his grandfather.  When he’s in his 20′s – he passes for his father’s brother (and falls in love with a 20 year old that likes older men).  As his wife ages, he grows disinterested by her appearance.  He can’t get into college because he looks too old, and he can’t return to war because he looks too young.  His own grown son forces him to call him uncle.  There’s enough fresh material there to not even have to snatch a snippet from the script of Gump.

I want to know how even though the adaptation of Die Hard followed its source more closely than Button does its own, screenwriter Steven E. de Souza never even get an Oscar wink, let alone a nod… come on, he deserved one (via Wikipedia):

Die Hard follows its source material — Roderick Thorp’s novel Nothing Lasts Forever— closely, much of the film’s memorable scenes, characters, and dialogue taken directly from the novel… changes included the older hero of the novel becoming younger, the hero’s daughter becoming his wife, and the American Klaxon Oil Corporation becoming the Japanese Nakatomi Corporation.

Good thing Eric Roth didn’t adapt that novel, or Forrest Gump might have been tracking down terrorists alongside Benjamin Button, like in Munich.  Wait, that might have actually been kind of cool…

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Tina permalink
    January 28, 2009 3:37 pm

    I also had issues with Button. My two cents…

    I can forgive some changes during the adaptation of the book to the screen. So, some little things (like his being born a normal-sized baby instead of a full grown man) are permissable. But my biggest problem was that of the Daisy character on her death bed recounting the story during the hurricane. WTF?

    First of all, that drags it out. It did NOT need to be 3 hours.

    Secondly, that is trying to make the story seem real. IT IS NOT! It is an imaginary fairy tale in Fitzgerald’s story and should be presented that way on screen. What is wrong with wanting to just be entertained by a movie? Why try to make the audience believe that it actually happened? Just take us on that journey and enjoy it.

    I thought Taraji P. Henson was great and so were Pitt and Blanchett. And that scene on the Paris street in her yellow coat was SO GOOD in so many ways.

  2. sgottahurt permalink*
    January 28, 2009 4:04 pm

    Yes, bringing the fantasty into the real-world is very distracting. (They could have alluded to Katrina rather than specify.)

    And yes, adaptations can be different and improve upon the original. “Shawshank Redemption” is leap years beyond Steven King’s original story.

    As I stated, it’s Roth’s laziness/unawareness of its similarities to Gump that gets me.

    (And the Paris bit was good, but it worked better in “Run Lola Run.”)

  3. Tina permalink
    January 29, 2009 8:52 am

    The Gump similarities bothered me, but not nearly as bad as trying to make it real. I am not an idiot! I know that could never happen! There is no need to try and convince me. I like a movie that “takes me away” from reality. I would have completely left the dying woman and Katrina bits out of it. No need for that. Just present the story like it is…

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