Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Great Gatsby Review

 I've been procrastinating on writing this review, and do you want to know why? Because I love The Great Gatsby. I love it so much that I was ultimately disappointed with what the movie ended up being. It had so much potential! Such promise! But under the direction of Baz Luhrmann, The Great Gatsby is just as gilded as the society that Fitzgerald tried to criticize in his original work. It's gilded and gaudy, and the gold is flaking off.
Spoilers ahead.

Not that the movie was completely without redeeming characteristics. There were a lot of things I loved about the film. Carey Mulligan is a fantastic Daisy Buchanan - she completely inhabits the role as a doll-like woman motivated by her own self-preservation, from her short blond hair to her dreamy air. I liked Joel Edgerton's Tom Buchanan as well. He seemed confident and physically powerful. Elizabeth Debicki was a great Jordan Baker, although she was a little too nice, which I attribute more to the writers than to Debicki's performance. And I have to say that I loved Leonardo DiCaprio's Jay Gatsby. He didn't play the role perfectly, but I liked how his veneer of perfection slowly crumbled over the movie, revealing the manic desperation underneath. I want it to be known here and now that I LOVE Leonardo DiCaprio and, yes, I firmly believe he has never received the Oscar he deserves, but, unfortunately, he doesn't deserve one for this performance.

The soundtrack in particular is one of the most memorable things from this film, and one of my favorite things. The decision to use contemporary music for the soundtrack was a polarizing one, but I loved it. It didn't take me out of the experience at all, it didn't feel unusual to hear Jay-Z while flappers danced around, and it made the Gatsby parties that much more enjoyable. Speaking of which, I adored the Gatsby parties - they seemed both impossibly fun (and I REALLY wanted to go to one) and very obviously over-the-top to the point of being ridiculous, which was the point. Gatsby parties are not real, and cannot be real, just like Gatsby's persona is a falsely perfect one - his parties and his identity are both creations for Daisy's benefit. That was done well.

I definitely enjoyed The Great Gatsby while watching it, but I found myself frequently rolling my eyes or groaning, which is a bad sign. For every thing done right, there was something that could have been done a lot better. The writing was altogether mediocre, for a variety of reasons. The film was terribly heavy-handed in a lot of places, like the scene with the yellow windows. A lot of metaphors were visualized literally, like Nick being in the apartment and on the street simultaneously, and I did not like it. The writers also explained away all the symbolism, which was completely unnecessary. Fitzgerald did an impeccable job of making his symbolism clear yet convincing in the original novel, but the film's writers clearly didn't think the audience would be able to figure out that the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg were really the eyes of God, etc. They also removed the romantic relationship between Nick and Jordan, and underused Jordan entirely, which annoyed me to no end, as Jordan was one of my favorite characters in the novel. I'm inclined to think that they did this in order to get people to read into the relationship between Nick and Gatsby, because my friend Maddie, with whom I saw the movie, wondered if Nick was in love with Gatsby.

Other aspects of the characterization were equally troubling. Myrtle, played by Isla Fischer, behaved perfectly, but she didn't quite look right. She's supposed to be a thick woman, with animal-like sensuality, not a little red-headed slip of a thing. This is not Isla Fischer's fault, of course, and like I said, she acted exactly like I imagined Myrtle would. Meyer Wolfsheim, on the other hand, did not deviate at all from how he was written, which was not a good thing. It would have been nice if they had pared down the horrible caricature of a stereotypical Jew at least a LITTLE bit. And I wish they had made Tom a little bit more despicable. Where was the discussion of the science that supported his racism? I found myself actually sympathizing with him, which I did not expect or, frankly, enjoy. I wanted to sympathize with Gatsby, if anyone, but he just seemed like the jerk who was trying to steal Tom's wife. It was very unsettling.

The one thing I really hated, though, was what they did with Nick's character. I'm just going to come right out and say it: I really did not like Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, at all. He was a poor choice, although he could have been much worse. He could have been a lot better too, though - I just don't think he's that great of an actor in general. And I really, REALLY did not like the framing device. I don't understand it! They could have made Nick the narrator without adding in the scenes of him in the sanitarium. He wasn't even a writer in the book, and he certainly wasn't an alcoholic. He was an observer, which implies that he did NOT get swept up in Gatsby's world to the point where it ruined his life. It was very weird, and it didn't feel right. I especially hated the words floating across the screen. I think they were purely there to make the 3D worthwhile.

I've come to the conclusion that The Great Gatsby just isn't meant for adaptation. It's the Great American Novel, and part of the reason for that is the beautiful language employed by Fitzgerald, the perfectly-woven words and phrases. That's not really something that translates well to film. And people are too enamored with the time period to capture it accurately or consistently. I think that this adaptation may, unfortunately, be the best one we're going to get. Unless, of course, we go with my high school English teacher's idea to transpose the story to another place and time, which could work. But I doubt anyone's going to do that anytime soon. For now, we'll have to content ourselves with this version, however obnoxious it may be.

My rating: 6/10

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