Grain of Button Salt

I just heard from two friends who came out of this evening’s David Fincher tribute at the Telluride Film Festival. They were mainly calling to share impressions of the 20-minute reel shown from Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount, 12.25), which was shown as part of a two-hour presentation that included a q & a with Fincher.

To my displeasure and irritation, their reactions to the Button footage, and frankly the reactions of others they spoke to as they left the theatre (including a couple of journo-critics and a respected director of an ’07 political documentary), were not all that good. Wait…what? This is supposed to have Oscar heat, this thing. Fincher’s possible home run, payback for the Zodiac diss, whatever.
My friends had one unqualified positive reaction, which was to the performance by Taraji P. Henson (Hustle and Flow) as Brad Pitt‘s adoptive mother. But beyond that, the Button footage felt vaguely underwhelming, they said.
It just wasn’t particularly exciting or engrossing, one explained. Excellent visual effects (old Pitt as a baby, etc.) and fine cinematography but with a kind of enervated, waiting-for-something-to-happen quality. The footage showed portions of the entire film, the other friend said, but in a way that kept you from getting into it with cuts coming too abruptly. And so people were kind of…whatever, grunting and muttering on the way out.
I didn’t like hearing this, of course, because I’m a fan of Eric Roth‘s script as well as an overall Fincher fan so I started arguing with these two. What were people looking for? I asked. What is it that people wanted to happen? It’s just a reel, a taste of a feature film.
They only repeated that whatever it was that the Button reel was trying to sell, they didn’t get it or get into it, and some others they’ve spoken to since it ended feel the same way.
One of them actually said that the Button reel had convinced him that Fincher has “peaked” and that “it’s all downhill from here on.” Oh, give me an effin’ break!
The Fincher tribute footage ran about an hour (or just under an hour) altogether, with 20 minutes for Button and 35 or 40 minutes showing pieces of past Fincher films (Zodiac, Fight Club, Se7en, etc.) The q & a between Fincher and Variety‘s Todd McCarthy ran another hour, they said.