The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an epic, not of scale, but of time. It is the story of an infant born suffering the infirmities of old age who lives his life in reverse, growing younger with each passing year until he dies in infancy. The film is a charmed, enchanted fable steeped in melancholy and wistful serenity. And it is an artistic and narrative triumph, which, while colder and more emotionally remote than necessary, embodies one of the most beautiful love stories set to screen in a very long time. Benjamin Button is not the finest film of the year, but it gets awfully close.
The film is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1921 short story. Screenwriter Eric Roth, the latest in a long line of scribes to take a whack at the material, borrows the famed American author's premise but creates a richer, lusher narrative than the short story could ever convey. Roth sets the film in New Orleans, a city of Old South gentility and infinite color and spice, bookending it between World War I and Hurricane Katrina.
Benjamin (Brad Pitt) loses his mother in childbirth, and his father, a button manufacturer (Jason Flemying) is so horrified by the child's ravaged appearance that he abandons him on the steps of a rest home, where he is discovered by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), a loving black employee. Queenie raises Benjamin as her own, among the elderly patrons. Even as a toddler, Benjamin fits right instooped, balding, bespeckled, hard of hearing and confined to a wheelchair. The doctor claims Benjamin has one foot in the grave already, but instead of dying, Benjamin grows taller, stronger and younger.
When the pre-pubescent (though he looks like a man in his 70s) Benjamin meets the granddaughter of one of the residents, ...