I’d been waiting for this incarnation of The Great Gatsby forever. I can’t tell you when I first saw the trailer, but I know it was a long time ago. I had been building anticipation since that first glimpse and I was ready to burst by the time I got my butt into my movie-theater seat. My unnatural and unjustified dislike of Leonardo DiCaprio’s face had run its course and I was ready. I was ready to accept the opulence that Baz Luhrmann had to offer.
The Great Gatsby was one of my very first book loves. We came together when I was still too young to understand its intricacies, but it still made an impression. The second time I read the book, I understood it and fell in love all over again. I hadn’t a clue when I first read it, but the imagery Fitzgerald’s words conjured in my brain, created vivid memories that I can still recall whenever I think of Jay Gatsby.
It’s safe to say that I had high hopes walking into that theater. Nevertheless, I had prepared myself to be let down. I had told myself repeatedly that I would likely be disappointed in one way or another, so I shouldn’t be too hard on Leo & Company going in. Then just before the feature presentation, I got hit with the Before Midnight trailer; so many endorphins were released into my bloodstream, that I was in a borderline euphoric state by the time the movie got underway. This, is the only way I can explain having eventually accepted the framing device of Nick Carraway (Toby McGuire). In this version of the Gatsby tale, Nick Carraway is in a sanatorium and badly in need of a cathartic experience. Nick’s good doctor suggests that he “write it out” and so he does just that.
It’s weird, I know. I was wondering what the hell was going on the first few minutes because it was such a complete departure from the book. Once I figured out that this trite trip-up was intended to give the story some context, I calmed my nerd tits and enjoyed the show. I made sure to remind myself, though that I needed to roll with the punches and have a good time; I’d waited too damn long for this.
Not only did I need to suspend reality for the duration of the film, I also had to suspend judgment in order not to ruin the entire experience. In other words, I couldn’t judge this movie based on the book. The book is a universe of experiences and lessons. This movie was just that, a film based on a beloved novel. This cinematic version wasn’t intended to be a carbon copy, but a new interpretation of ideas, circumstances and emotions. A movie is a completely different animal from a book, I know because I obsess about both, sometimes.
And so we begin our journey into the roaring twenties with Nick Carraway as our guide. Through Nick, we’re introduced to his fabulously wealthy cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). Daisy’s married to Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Tom and Nick know one another independently of Daisy as they went to Yale together. Tom’s a real jackass; he’s rich, bored, hostile and horny. Daisy and Tom live in East Egg on Long Island. Nick has rented a cottage directly across from their Mansion in West Egg where the nouveau rich live, where Gatsby lives. As a matter of fact, Nick’s cottage is adjacent to Gatsby’s sprawling estate. Nick, having heard all the rumors about Gatsby’s background, was quick to accept an invitation to one of his legendary fêtes.
Nick finally meets the elusive Gatsby and they swiftly become friends. Gatsby later has a favor to ask of Nick. Gatsby needs Nick to invite Daisy to his cottage for tea, so that he can “serendipitously” stop by. It turns out, Gatsby’s got a bit of a thing for Daisy and those two go way back. They were in love once, but Gatsby had to leave her to fight in the war and Daisy, well she married Tom while he was gone. It’s all very tragic when Gatsby’s obsession with recapturing a romanticized past, takes center stage.
Most of this sounds familiar, right? As well it should. The Great Gatsby remains far more faithful to the novel than I had anticipated. For me, it’s important that a movie, based on a book, keep most basic ‘facts,’ in tact and in proper sequence. I need this in order to make the connection between the literary and the cinematic, in my own mind and to more easily become enveloped in the movie.
By now, I’m sure you’ve read some reviews for The Great Gatsby. I’m also willing to wager that you’ve read mostly negative ones and I think that’s a shame. I suppose I can understand why critics wouldn’t appreciate this newfangled version; with its hip-hop and 3D, it’s a lot to take in. While I can accept that some will reject anything, but an original, sometimes you just have to be willing to leave your expectations at the door, especially with regards to film.
Despite what you’ve heard, I think The Great Gatsby is worth your time. Not only do I think you should watch the movie, but I think you need to see it in 3D. I will ask you a favor though. Leave those literary expectations at home because you’re going to the movies. This isn’t the great-American-novel experience, it’s Baz Luhrmann’s visual extravaganza, based on a great literary work. Suspend reality for a spell.
Leonardo DiCaprio gets his own paragraph and this time, I’m giving it to him willingly. I can’t say I was surprised that he nailed it, but I’m not sure how else to describe his performance. I suppose I was more grateful, than surprised. Yep, that’s it, I am thankful Leo didn’t let me down. DiCaprio brings a devastatingly and slightly ruggedly good-looking Jay Gatsby to the table. He got the look just right and that might not sound like a great feat for Leonardo DiCaprio, but he didn’t just look the part, he radiated it.
I don’t know about you, but I like when actors use their faces when they’re acting. What I mean is that I greatly appreciate performances that convey emotion and entire stories, via expressions and mannerisms. Again, I enjoy watching people do good work and DiCaprio’s Gatsby demonstrates skilled execution. Leo glides with just enough swagger to make you wonder about him. He entices with a mere glance. His charm is undeniable and ever-present, he was an excellent and amplified Jay Gatsby. Well done DiCaprio, for now I accept your face and no longer wish to stab it to bloody bits.
Carey Mulligan as Daisy succeeded where Mia Farrow did not. When I first saw the 1974 Gatsby movie I was left puzzled. Not only because again, I was likely too young to fully understand adult relationship complexities, but also because it was kind of a bad movie. Gatsby ’74 was dreamy and tragically romantic in a way only a young and foolish girl could fully appreciate. Mia Farrow’s Daisy was so shallow and one-dimensional that I got nothing beyond the surface. All I got from Farrow was Wounded Bambi Syndrome. I felt bad for her the way I would feel bad for a lost puppy, but she’s not conveying anything beyond that.
Carey Mulligan, on the other hand, gave me a little more insight into Daisy. The regret, love, disappointment and tragedy all register individually as well as jointly on her face throughout the entire movie. Mulligan is without a doubt, talented; she portrays a woman you just want to ‘shake the shit out of’ and I think that’s spot on for Daisy Buchanan. There’s no better way to describe her character in the book or this movie. Mulligan pulled through despite the fact that she sometimes looked like she was playing dress-up in the stunning costumes.
Toby McGuire gets a bad wrap, because I enjoy him. He does that wounded and naive thing really well. He’s as emotive as he needs to be and adds a nice dimension to Gatsby’s story. He was an excellent choice for Nick. Elizabeth Debicki was great as Jordan Baker, but she was sadly underused in the film’s version of the story. Joel Edgarton is so delectably mean-spirited that he cannot go without mention as well.
The performances were good and the visual effects were sensational. They really brought to life some of those ‘memories’ I spoke about in the second paragraph. How Luhrmann managed to peek inside my imagination and see how I projected Fitzgerald’s words, is beyond me. I just know he did it, that’s the only plausible explanation for how similar my mental images and his visuals are. It’s cool to say the least. Sure the effects are over the top and often times teeter on excessive, but I believe that this was the intent. Jay Gatsby was about being so far over the top that there was nowhere to go, but backward. Like I said, if you go in expecting to get a re-telling of the novel, you’ll end up angry and disappointed. If you go in with an open mind you will likely enjoy the experience. After all, the novel was, in great part, about transporting you to a notorious time and place. Now, go watch it, in 3D. You can thank me later. I love you too.
The Great Gatsby (2013) – B+
B+ = Give this one a go for sure. You will most likely enjoy it and if /when it comes on cable, you will probably watch it through to the end regardless of your starting point.