May 11, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: The Great Gatsby

I remember when I first saw the trailer for the 2013, Baz Lurhman adaptation of F. Scott Fitgeralds 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. It was about a year ago and I rushed to discuss it with my AP Lit teacher at the time, and I remember her saying something along the lines of:

"I think it's going to emphasize and concentrate on the wrong things."

That stuck with me as I was going into the movie, yet as the movie began everything went out of my mind. I tried to take away all the bias from the buzz around the film and only think about what was being set before me. However, the problem with all movie adaptions of classic novels is that you aren't only going to have people who have read the book criticizing the film by saying "The book was better" (which happens with even the most recent of books to be adapted into movies) but you also have many years of analysis from critics, professors, teachers, and most importantly (IM KIDDING) students mixed in with that, so nobody is really going to pleased no matter what you do.


That means, as you watch the movie all you're going to be thinking about is "this didn't happen in the book" or "WHAT THE HELL JORDAN DOESN'T HAVE BLACK HAIR". Adaptions cannot be judged solely on the film itself, but rather how it represents the original work. Of course, there is also the people who haven't read the book, but let's be honest, most people read The Great Gatsby in high school...or at least Sparknoted it.


Basically, what I'm trying to get at is that it's impossible to watch The Great Gatsby without comparing it to the book and comparing it to everything you know about the book. So, how does The Great Gatsby measure up to one of the greatest books of the 20th century AND was my lit teacher correct in her guesses about what direction the film was going to go?


As I've already said, everyone knows the story. Nick Carraway (Tobey McGuire) moves to New York to be a bonds salesman in the summer of 1922. The economy is booming and everyone likes to drink, dance...and drive fancy cars (we find this out in a little montage to a Jay Z song). Nick goes to visit his second cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) , who married unfaithful Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) aka "the polo player" who he went to Yale with. This is when the mysterious Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is first mentioned. He is found to be Nick's neighbor in a giant house in the town of west egg (where the nouveau rich live) across the bay from east egg (old money). Gatsby is known to throw some pretty bitchin' parties every Saturday night, yet nobody has ever seen Gatsby or knows anything about him. There are many rumours surrounding him and his wealth, but nobody really knows who he is, just that he can throw a good party.

Ain't no party like a Jay Gatsby party cuz a Jay Gatsby
party is built on broken hopes and dreams!

Soon enough, Nick is invited to one of these parties and finally meets Gatsby. He then finds himself in the middle of a long kept passion between Daisy and Gatsby, who met and fell in love five years before when Gatsby was in Louisville as a young officers, and never got to rekindle their romance after Gatsby left for the war. That's where I'm going to end on my synopsis because...spoilers? (No, I really just have no desire to write about the plot, THIS ISN'T A MEDIOCRE ESSAY, DICKS!)

Teacher remarks: "You literally just retold the story"

Gatsby is classic Luhrmann. Fast paced with incredible visuals, and an eye for detail. Every scene is greater than life, grotesque and unbelievable. I found myself wondering "how does that much money exist?". It was very pleasing to the eye with all it's pomp and grandeur. However, watching the movie felt a little empty. It's like Gatsby had lost all it's soul. At first this was irritating, but towards the end of the film I found it almost ingenious (though I'm sure unintentionally). A big part about the novel is that on the surface these people live luxurious and extravagant lifestyles but then as you get to the core you realize these people are empty. Daisy, for how beautiful and dazzling she is, is quite unappealing and selfish. Gatsby is enigmatic at the beginning but we find he is just a lovesick puppy dog.

Gatsby wants Daisy as much as Leo wants an Oscar

The book is called The GREAT Gatsby...from afar Gatsby is so mysterious and untouchable, yet as the story progresses we see he is just a naive guy full of hope and loss. There is nothing great about Gatsby except from the illusion (tricks are what whores do for money) that everyone has of him, including Nick, in the beginning. The movie itself appears great, dazzling, and exciting in the first scenes but as it progresses to the heart of the film you realize there is no magic at it's core.

Another problem with this adaption is that it plays absolutely no emphasis on the 1920s. The reason so many generations of readers have been drawn to The Great Gatsby is that it is the epitome of "the jazz age". You could get such a good idea of what the peak of the 1920s were with the careless partying, living it up, and drinking was. Yes, this movie definitively showed all that, but with a modern soundtrack and no real reference to the 20s, it felt like a costume party with an invitation that read "Wear your best flapper attire!"

The viewer was not transported back to the 20s...we were treated to a pretty show with the 20s as an afterthought. It's like That 70s Show after season 1. Yeah, they were still living in the 70s, but it could have just as easily been the 21st century as well. Maybe this isn't a bad thing in most cases, but so much of the appeal of Gatsby comes from the glimpse the modern reader gets into this age that was so short lived yet so glorified. Gatsby IS the 1920s in our eyes. The Great Gatsby is the 20s from a man who actually lived it. The Great Gatsby 2013 style is NOT the 1920s. Hell, at one point Tom kept talking about whiskey. WHISKEY. I almost wanted to scream "IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE GINNNNNNNNNN!".

"It should have been you Gin, not Whiskey"
exceprt from a love story between a glass of
gin and vodka, where whiskey tore them apart

I also mentioned the soundtrack. To be quite honest, I liked it. In relation to my point above, it was quite a garbage idea...but from a period piece stand point I have always liked unfitting music. Take for instance A Knights Tale, set place in medieval France and England, it's sound track is completely 1970s. I thought it added so much to a film that didn't take itself too seriously. Any movie BUT Gatsby this would have worked , but like I said, it took away from a big part of what the story is all about. It's a shame actually because it made for some really cool scenes.

Another really annoying thing about the film was that it would just throw the answers at you. It would tell you what everything meant. There was no room for someone to be like "ahh, I see the green light represents..." because they told you. It was like someone wanted to let the world know "I READ THE BOOK BAHHHHHHH!!!! SEE I'M SMART!"

"I read Romeo and Juliet, too"

Performance wise, there isn't too much to complain about. I thought Leo made a decent Gatsby, and there were times where I could see the pure emotion on his face. I liked that a lot, and to that I give Leo a lot of credit. I'm unsure how I feel he was in comparison to  Robert Redford's 1974's version, who made Gatsby so desperate and hopeful that you kind of wanted to puke a little. Leo's Gatsby got to that point as well, but you could still see him clinging on to keeping some mystery still.

I actually was impressed with Carey Mulligan as Daisy. She is a hard part to play but I think Mulligan did it to the best of her ability. Slightly less annoying than Mia Farrow, you could see the confusion, longing, and uncertainty that she had when it came to being with Gatsby. There was a small window of time where yes, she maybe would have gone to Gatsby, but then in an instant that's all gone and it's heartbreaking.

"So, just to be clear, just HOW much money do you have?
It's for...uhm...a survey."
I might be harping on this movie a little too much, but there are a few things I did enjoy. I liked that there were direct quotes from the original novel. It helped remind the viewer that this is an actual book, and that the director respected that fact. As mentioned earlier, the visuals were amazing. It was visually quite pleasing, and the party scenes were very, very cool. For the most part, the plot followed the book. Content wise, this was great, but like the 1974 version I found the movie dragged on and almost stopped caring at a certain point. However, my interest stayed because I really wanted to see how the end of the story played out. That's the funny thing about adaptions of books you've read, even though you know what happens, the end is still going to be a surprise.

Leo, this is going to be you in 39 years (spoiler)

I liked this movie, I really did. Despite all my criticism I was entertained and engrossed in the film. It was beautifully made and to a point, an achievement. I have no problem saying that. I was not disappointed,  especially since I had such low hopes. I'm still waiting for a perfect Gatsby movie though. It's like different adaptions get certain things right while missing some crucial parts. That's why in high school you always watched different versions of movies for the books you read. Nobody ever gets it truly right, and you cant really expect that. Books are classics for a reason, and trying to recreate that is impossible, so that's why I am not going to be too hard on The Great Gatsby. I'm going to take it with a grain of salt as a good effort to make a good movie, but a horrible effort to capture what Gatsby really is. For some reason, I'm okay with that.