The Great Gatsby (2013)

the great gatsby IMDb

I really want to like this film, it is one of Sally’s favourite books, so I gave this a real shot when it first came out and even read the book before seeing the movie. This story just did not grab me at all though, and the movie had too many things going against it.

An all-star cast cannot save what is an ordinary story from, in my opinion, an incredibly overrated director (Baz Luhrman).

The Great Gatsby is the story of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) and his first summer in New York during the 1920s. He becomes friends with his reclusive neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). The two become fast friends, before Nick realises that Gatsby is only interested in meeting his socialite cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan). The pair have a history together and Gatsby is determined to woo her away from her cheating husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Daisy and Gatsby embark on an affair. Can they run away together, or will their sordid affair be discovered by the nutty Tom Buchanan and be stopped?

My biggest problem with this film was Daisy. She was such an annoying character, I really struggled to believe that anyone would be in love with her, let alone jump through the kind of hoops Gatsby does in order to be with her. DiCaprio is good, as he usually is, I really liked his casting as the reclusive Gatsby. It was also a lot of fun seeing him and Tobey Maguire share the screen. The two are best friends away from the camera, and I can only imagine the fun these two got up too while living in Sydney for six months during filming.

I really don’t like Baz Luhrman as a director. I don’t like his visual style at all, and it is all on show here. The party scenes are straight out of something like Moulin Rouge. I feel like a lot of his films are exactly the same, the only one that really looks very different from the rest is Australia, which had its own problems.

Like I said, I tried to enjoy this film, I just could not get into it. I thought the character of Jay Gatsby came across as not much more than a creepy stalker, and the object of his affection was average at best.

Rating: C-

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books. It’s one of the few novels from my required high school reading that has stuck with me over the years. It’s a uniquely American take on wealth, greed, and societal upheaval. It is a haunting period piece, that simultaneously transcends its 1920s setting to remain relevant to this day.

That said, it does not translate well to screen.

At first I thought Baz Lurhmann might just be the perfect match for The Great Gatsby. He’s a filmmaker with a distinct visual aesthetic that seems as if it would lend itself well to this Jazz Age tale. But here in lies the inherent trouble with film adaptations of this book: the party scenes look like too much fun. The colors are too bright, the celebrations too raucous, the costumes too pretty. This works well at first: the audience is left in awe of Gatsby’s wealth, just as Nick Carraway is when he first enters the mansion. But the parties and beach fun and speak-easys never convincingly lose their glamour. The essence of the story becomes muddled, if not completely lost amidst all the diamonds and glitter. There’s just something about the book’s descriptions that get the point across in a way that this adaptation (and all others) do not.

While the story itself does not come across well on screen, the acting in this film is excellent. This is not Leonardo DiCaprio’s best work, but he is undeniably Jay Gatsby. I only wish that he had been cast in this role 1o years ago when he was actually the correct age for the part. The same can be said of Tobey McGuire as narrator Nick Carraway. Still, it’s entirely possible that neither of these actors would have been prepared for these roles at a younger age. They both bring a maturity to their characters that is lacking in the script as a whole. Carey Mulligan is a great Daisy; she nails the carelessness of Mrs Buchanan, and it is perplexing at times what Gatsby sees in her. In any other “love” story this would be a bad thing, but in the world of The Great Gatsby the audience shouldn’t see what Gatsby sees (because it doesn’t actually exist).

The one Lurhmann contribution that overwhelmingly works is the music. This soundtrack effortlessly mixes 1920s songs with contemporary hip-hop, rock, and pop. You wouldn’t think that Cole Porter, Louis Armstrong, and George Gershwin would work so well next to, Lana del Rey, and Jay-Z, but they really do. The contemporary music perfectly channels the spirit of the Jazz Age; the 1920s music reminds you that you are in it.

A part of me kind of hopes people will give up trying to bring The Great Gatsby to the silver screen. I have sincere doubts that a movie will ever do it justice. I’ll always be a champion of “reading the book before seeing the movie,” but in this case it is so very necessary. This film is a faithful adaptation in a technical sense, but misses the mark when it comes to the book’s spirit.

But by all means, Hollywood, keep reaching for that green light– just know that it doesn’t represent what you think it does.

Rating: B-

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