The Great Gatsby

poster_thegreatgatsbyI started reading The Great Gatsby again before I saw this, but I only got through the third chapter. I love the novel, and even though I’ve read it about four times already I’m a bit rusty on it. As I’m a big fan of the book, I was originally very excited to see this when I first found out about it about a year ago. It got delayed; I got nervous. A movie that was presumably vying for an Oscar with its December release date, pushed back to May, the month of big budget blockbusters? Not a good sign. The trailers came out, and I got more nervous. It was sparkly, CGI all over the place, and modernized in terms of the music. It screamed spectacle. I was worried, but not worried enough to not see it. I’d already seen two lackluster adaptations of my beloved novel, so I really had no excuse to miss this one.

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a “morbidly alcoholic” (what is that term?) man with a story to tell. He’s in a sanitarium, and his doctor has urged him to write about his experiences so he can get over them. I’m telling you this now mostly to get it out of the way. It’s not a big deal that they decided to add this in here, except that they kept coming back to Nick writing in the sanitarium when more exciting things were going on in the flashbacks. They didn’t need to break it up like this, and they didn’t need an excuse for Maguire to read us the book in voice over narration. We can read the book for ourselves, thank you. What we can’t do, is make a movie out of it.

In the summer of 1922, Nick Carraway went East to sell bonds. He rents a house out on Long Island, in “West Egg.” West Egg is in direct contrast to East Egg, the more fashionable side of Long Island Sound. He ends up living next to Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and doesn’t meet him for quite a long time. He sees the parties he throws, all night, every night. People just show up out of nowhere and find their way towards Gatsby’s. It’s the roaring twenties, and Gatsby’s mansion appears to be the lion’s den. Naturally, Nick is curious about his neighbor long before he meets him.

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He meets up with others first though. His cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) live over in East Egg, and there they introduce him to Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki). She knows Gatsby, and Daisy seems to know him as well. Eventually he gets invited to one of his parties, and finally meets the man. He starts unraveling Gatsby’s motivations for throwing all of these parties, and it turns out to be Daisy. The two of them have a history, and Gatsby wants to reclaim it. In the meantime, we see all of the excesses of the twenties unfolding right before our eyes. Gatsby has his parties and other secrets as well, Tom has his mistress, Daisy has Gatsby, and Nick has his morbidly developing alcoholism. Everything climaxes in a fittingly sordid manner.

Fitzgerald’s novel is open to interpretation, and I developed (or had taught to me in my junior year of high school, more accurately) my own interpretation of the novel. Some of the evidence for this interpretation is left out of the film, which made me a bit sad. Obviously, Luhrman has his own vision of the novel and that’s what I paid to see, but I was still disappointed  Hopefully, I’ll be able to elaborate on my interpretation of the novel in a further post on the novel itself, but I’ll just tell you there are some great parts he left out. Gatsby describing Daisy’s voice as sounding “full of money”, Gatsby’s actual funeral and the further exploration of his origins that come along with it, and the relationship between Nick and Jordan that could have been developed way more would have served the film better than some of the more stylistic choices Luhrman makes.

One such choice is to show people partying like it’s 1922. People are parting all over the place, and it was excessive. That is of course one of the points of the story, but it is a minor point, and felt like overkill here. I felt this most acutely during the party at Myrtle’s (Tom’s mistress, played by Isla Fisher) where we just watch everybody getting drunk and going crazy, all to the fabulous voice over stylings of Tobey Maguire, telling us just how wild and crazy the party is. We can already see how wild and crazy the party is, and how drunk he is. We can see how roaring the twenties are with this scene alone, but does Luhrman stop there? No, he gives us some more party scenes at Gatsby’s house. Now, they are important to the story, and the ones at Gatsby’s were slightly better because Gatsby was actually there and we were getting to the bottom of his character a bit, but still. I can only take so much.

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I did actually see this in 3D, which was not my first choice but the time fit my schedule better. This is probably my advice with most movies automatically, but this time I can say it with the confidence born out of experience that given the option, see this in good old 2D. The 3D was blurry and out of focus a lot, which was frustrating and distracting to say the least. I don’t know if this is because of the 3D, but the colors also seemed really off to me. That might just be the CGI though, I’m not sure. The grass was especially bad. It looked more yellow than green. All of this, combined with sequences that seemed more like music videos than a feature film and the voice overs actually spelled out for us onscreen (as if it wasn’t enough to have Maguire read the book, we also needed artistic subtitles), weighed the film down a lot.

Besides Maguire, the performances were all pretty strong. I had suspected that DiCaprio would be great in this role ever since I heard about it, and he did not disappoint. He even made Maguire look good at some points. I thought Mulligan was good too, but not amazing. Daisy is the trickiest character though, in my opinion. It’s easy to dismiss her as being really shallow and selfish, but this film actually had me rethinking that a bit so hats off to Luhrman and Mulligan for that. Well, I suppose I still think she’s shallow and selfish but that doesn’t make anything easier for her. The performance I was most impressed with was actually Edgerton as Tom. He matched my idea of him pretty closely, and I thought his large presence really fit the character and helped out the film immensely. The scene with him and Gatsby arguing over Daisy is probably the best in the entire film.

By the time I got around to seeing this, I wasn’t dreading it as much as I was originally. I love the source material, and I tried my hardest not to compare the film with the book while I was watching. I was failing a lot in the beginning, but as the film went on it was able to draw me in enough to stop me from doing this. It’s an entertaining enough movie, even though it might not look that great all the time. It also doesn’t sound that great with Maguire in the picture, reading the book to us. The film does have some good things in it, and even though it definitely could have been better, I almost have to hand it to Luhrman for taking this story and making it his own. Because it definitely is his, even if that’s not the best thing for it. Here’s to hoping another film adaptation of The Great Gatsby down the line will be an improvement.

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“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Long story short: 2.5/4 stars

8 responses to “The Great Gatsby

    • yeah, my suggestion would be to read it first. The other two adaptions I’ve seen are pretty faithful as far as I remember, but there’re just sort of there. They’re bad in only that they’re not exciting or memorable, or anywhere near as good as the original source material. This one is more memorable in that it tries harder, and probably fails more in doing so. I haven’t seen the other two in awhile so it’s hard to compare them off the top of my head.
      The book is great though. Definitely recommended.

  1. ” Because it definitely is his, even if that’s not the best thing for it.” LOL, that’s one of the most poignant lines in any review yet Ive read for this movie. LOL Too true, Hunter, too true.

    Nice review, I agree. It wasn’t that bad, but it certainly could have been a lot better 😦

    • Thank you! On one hand I respect him for going out on a limb like that, and other hand I don’t. I hope he’s happy with the movie he made at least. Because like you say, it wasn’t really all out bad. Just could have been better.

  2. “I almost have to hand it to Luhrman for taking this story and making it his own. ”

    Yessss! Someone else finally gets it! It’s a modernized interpretation of the 1920s novel, and critics are whining about what doesn’t work more than what DOES work. We don’t want to see 1974’s Gatsby on screen again with Dicaprio and Mulligan filling in for Redford and Farrow! It was definitely a gutsy film to produce, and I’m glad you appreciated it too 🙂

    • Awesome! That’s true, I do not want to see a repeat of the ’74 version! And there were more than a few good things about this one, but on the whole I can’t really give it my wholehearted approval. It must have been tough to get that movie made, I was thinking he almost would have done better with adapting one of Fitzgerald’s lesser known works. Less people would have read it, he would still get to mess with the time period and roaring twenties stuff, and less people would complain. Of course, it would be harder to get people to see the film as well…
      But in terms of Great Gatsby adaptations, I still don’t think we have a definitive film one, unfortunately. 😦

  3. i wish Baz had just gone all in with a modern interpretation rather than this middle of the road film. If he had gone full modern like he did with R&J it would have been a much better film. Acting good, costume design good, soundtrack awful, direction too many fancy camera angels and directorial flourishes detract from the story.

    • That would be another way to combat the expectations thing. Just go for something so different so they aren’t as comparable anymore. I agree, that also would have been better. Just change the bootlegging to drugs and you’re golden.
      I haven’t seen Romeo + Juliet, but I’ve heard it’s good. I should check it out sometime…

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