I moved to LA in 1999 and got an internship at a little production company in Hollywood. The project they were most excited about was a short story written by F. Scott Fitzgerald called "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button". I think they were still in the process of looking for a writer and a name to attach as the lead. Well, that never happened. But nearly ten years later it got made - but with a different company and producers.
So I was excited to see what finally got made. I watched it the other night and I thought it was just okay, nothing special. It's one of those weird movies where it's like a biopic but the bio they're pic-ing is a made up person. There's no big build to anything, it's just this guy's life. Something is missing though when "this guy's life" is fiction. This kind of endeavor can feel a little empty - I mean part of the reason bio-pics are cool to watch is that "this shit really happened" quality. So a fake bio-pic better be pretty darned entertaining and/or meaningful.
While I was watching it, I started thinking about what other fake bio-pics there are. There's "Walk Hard", but that's a spoof. And then there's "Forrest Gump". And then it hit me that "Benjamin Button" has a lot in common with "Forrest Gump". I kept watching, and then I thought, "this movie is stealing from Forrest Gump"!
I immediately hopped on the ol' imdb to find out what hack was ripping off "Forrest Gump". I quickly discovered that the guy who wrote Benjamin Button is Eric Roth, who happens to be one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood. His credits include "The Insider", "Ali", "Munich", "Forrest Gump"...
Guess the reason they are so similar is that they came from the same dude.
Let's take a look at the things they share in common:
--Forrest and Benjamin are both "special", from the south, and raised by a single mom
--Both movies are told in flashback, frequently coming back to the narrator during the story
--Early in their lives, they both need braces to walk
--They both live in houses populated by strangers who stay with them and then leave (or in Button's case, die)
--Both break free of their walking aids by a "miracle"
--They both fall in love with whores
--They both spend time on a boat, and have a life or death battle with the elements
--Forrest sends Jenny a letter every day from the war, Benjamin sends Daisy a post card from every where he’s been
--They both are forced to drink and party by their alcoholic shipmate
--Their best friends get shot and die in their arms
--Afterwards, both return home to their "mama" who dies
--The love of their lives is a girl they met as a kid, then didn’t see each other for a long time, then they briefly reunite and the girl forces herself on them, and then they see each other again and she’s over it, and then they reconnect and live together
--They both have a kid that they're scared will be born like them and that they won't be able to properly raise
--They both have a business with their last name in it - BubbaGump, Button's Buttons
--Both of their girlfriends dream of working as artists (ballet dancer, singer), and both are brought down by a tragedy (car accident, AIDS)
--Daisy learns to walk through intense physical therapy, so does Lt. Dan
--In Forrest Gump it's a feather, in Benjamin Button it's a humming bird
Though Benjamin Button is based on a short story written by someone other than Eric Roth, the movie is completely different. So Eric Roth is the guy behind it. In the short, Button is from New York, raised by his dad, and is different in basically every way (another difference: Button dumps the girl because he’s no longer attracted to her because she’s an old lady – which makes more sense than what they did in the movie).
This is really interesting to me because I wonder if the producers felt it was similar to Gump and just hired the guy that wrote it, or does the guy that wrote it subconsciously have all that stuff in his head and he can’t help but write it?
Either way, I kept comparing the two. Forrest Gump worked for me, whereas Benjamin Button kinda didn’t. Why? The biggest reason is Tom Hanks. I could watch Tom Hanks take a shit for 2 hours and enjoy it. He makes things watchable. Can’t say the same for Brad Pitt.
And where the Forrest Gump character is dumb and funny and does dumb and funny things, Button is a nothing. He’s a guy stuff happens to, instead of the other way around. Forrest Gump does things. He shows his ass to the President. He beats the shit out of Jenny’s boyfriend…twice, and “ruins your black panther party”. He also does a lot of jogging for no reason.
That's the main reason it's better to me. But also, who could love Cate Blanchett?
Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that.