Not-So-Great Gatsby – A Mixed Review

Last night I finally sat down to try to watch The Great Gatsby — the new film directed by Baz Luhrman, not the 1974 Francis Ford Coppola directed version starring Robert Redford, nor the ever popular “G” from 2002, which has mostly and thankfully been erased from my memory.

Why have I seen not one but now three (well, two and a half, but we’ll get to that later, darlings) film adaptions of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic?

Why, because I love this book, darlings. I adore it. I breathe it in and breathe it out, and I still clench my fists on the pages in anticipation of the shock ending. (No spoilers, don’t worry, but really, why haven’t you already read this book — it’s only about 200 pages — read it!)

What I discovered upon watching Mr. Luhrman’s film last night was that I really don’t like Tobey Maguire. That goofy, wide-eyed innocent schtick he pulls in Gatsby made me feel like I was watching Peter Parker in a period piece, if you’ll allow the accidental alliteration. And when he was recounting the tale to his therapist, it was Spider-Man 3 all over again. How do we make Tobey Maguire dark and edgy? I know — just lose the bow tie, pull a strand of hair down over his forehead, and hove him lose that dorky grin and furrow his brow.

That being said, I loved the rest of the cast. Daisy and Jordan were cast perfectly, and Joel Edgerton is a wonderful Tom Buchanan — he’s brash and loud and willful. And from what I’ve seen so far (again, we’ll get back to that) Leonardo DiCaprio was fantastic as Gatsby. He brought a nervous desperation to the role that I hadn’t ever seen before.

Another thing that I learned from watching half of The Great Gatsby last night is that I strongly dislike — in fact, I believe it would be fair to say that I loathe inclusion of rap and hip-hop in the film.

Why? Well, let’s see, shall we? Normally, I would give Baz Luhrman pretty free reign when it comes to music in his films, because his films are usually surreal, and while they may, at first glance, seem like period pieces, they transcend that — Romeo & Juliet is a surreal blend of Shakespearean text and modern urban setting — with music that ranges from Radiohead to Prince to Des’ree to the Butthole Surfers and back again to Radiohead for the Exit Music.

Moulin Rouge was a story told by musical pastiches, and the whole point was blending modern music with the turn of the century setting. So in that case, NO music was off limits.

With Gatsby, however, Luhrman has made a true period piece, and the inclusion of Jay-Z‘s hip hop seems, to me, to be pandering to a modern audience who lack an appreciation for anything more than five years old. It says to me that a modern audience just couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea of young people getting drunk and partying to jazz and big band, and doing the foxtrot. I just kept waiting with sick trepidation for the twerking to begin. Thankfully, the film didn’t sink that low.

By having the cast dressed in period garb and speaking in period slang and cadence, and then having them dance around to hip-hop, it destroyed the illusion for me. All the flapper hats and Brooks Brothers suits ended up looking cliche, painted on, and lacking in authenticity, and in the end, a little insulting to my intelligence. If you’ll pardon the analogy, it came off looking like the whole thing was painted up in blackface, and if you find that analogy offensive, well so do I — that’s how the film made me feel.

If Mr. Luhrman had wanted to make an updated version of the story (like the ill-advised and previously mentioned “G”) then the inclusion of hip-hop music would have been appropriate. If Mr. Luhrman had painted a clearer, surreal vision of the film, where, like with Romeo & Juliet, the modern music added to the surrealism, then I could have accepted that as well. As it is, Jay-Z’s hip hop elements stand out like the penis on a pre-op transgender stripper.

The jazz elements of the score were wonderful, and I believe I even caught a snippet of a horn player playing a line of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which made me grin a little because of its ominous associations.

Visually the film was remarkable, and I can’t say anything bad about that aspect. The harsh and stark contrast between East Egg and the valley of ashes is astounding.

And now, the final indictment — I turned the movie off about an hour in. True, it was getting late, and I was tired, but the fact of the matter is, I didn’t care. Oh, I’m sure I’ll watch the rest of it at some point this long weekend, but the fact that I didn’t care to finish it last night really says all you need to know, darlings.

Go read the book. It’s a fantastic story, and is not what you think at all.

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5 responses to “Not-So-Great Gatsby – A Mixed Review

  1. I thought the setting and the clothes were gorgeous…but I also was in the process of developing a stomach virus, so I’m not sure how lucid I was. I loved Leonardo and Joel and Carey Mulligan. The movie actually forced me to re-read the novel before I saw it. I was a staunch Gatsby-hater after reading it in high school, but upon re-reading it I loved the book.
    I thought the movie was very showy and glitzy, but perhaps it did overwhelm the story. I haven’t felt the need to see it again.

    As for Toby McGuire…ugh.

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