Monday, May 13, 2013

The Great Gatsby--a movie review

Well, I might as well make a confession....

I did not read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in high school. I actually don't recall it being required reading. It's possible that I managed to somehow just review the Cliff Notes on it, but that wouldn't have been my style.

When I saw that one of my favorite directors, Baz Luhrmann, was turning the book into a movie, I was intrigued. Luhrmann has a knack for creating spectacle that takes the material to a whole new place. I'll never forget watching his version of Romeo and Juliet and being completely wowed by it.

Could he do the same with an American classic like The Great Gatsby?

I think the answer to that lies within how much you like the novel.

As I viewed the movie this week, I kept thinking how some people were really going to like the treatment of the Fitzgerald's jazz age tale and others were going to be completely offended by it. I did read the book a few weeks ago and found that I enjoyed it immensely. Personally, I don't think it's the end all, be all in a story (sorry Fitzgerald fans), but its well written with lots of brilliant prose. My favorite line from the book was "Her voice sounded like money."

I get exactly what the author means by that.

I would say the movie version cost  a lot of money to make and it captures the decadence Fitzgerald wrote about. The opulent lifestyle of Gatsby, the Jazz Age (or was it a Rap Age? The sound track kind of mixes that up), the extravagant fashion--it's all there in the film in beautiful, vibrant color. Terrific characterizations by the actors--especially DiCaprio--are displayed. That gorgeous yellow car at the center of so much turmoil is enough to make even the most dedicated Gatsby fan get a little excited as it cruises down the streets of New York. The famous eyes from the original Gatsby book cover pop up over and over again (with glasses), never letting you forget that you are an observer in this tale--and oh yeah, it was a book once.

But for me, that was the problem with the movie version of The Great Gatsby. It's front loaded with eye catching visuals, but once the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby begins to unfold, everything comes to a halt and a very slow paced movie emerges. I thought that while the actress playing Daisy, Carey Mulligan, was beautiful, she didn't really capture all of the character's facets. Sadness is an emotion that can look many different ways and she nailed that, but there is a flippancy to Daisy that I felt was mixing.  Leonardo DiCaprio's Gatsby was well played--exactly how I pictured the character, in fact--but the chemistry between him and his Daisy wasn't there. The moments of their reunion didn't quite feel true and that's a shame when you consider the whole story leads up to those moments where we at last see Gatsby and his love together.

A supporting cast does help deliver some strengths to the movie. Loved the portrayal of Tom Buchanan! Tobey Maguire does well as Nick Carraway when he is in the moment--though I wasn't crazy about his narration skills. He always sounds like he is still going through puberty when he narrates something.

As a Luhrmann fan, I would say this film captures all his usual tricks and is very satisfying in that sense. For a fan of the original novel...well, again, it depends on how much you love Fitzgerald. All in all I would call this version of the book, a good Gatsby. Not great.


  1. Solid review Mary Ann. It’s one of those instances when style overcomes substance. Just a shame that it had to be this adaptation too.

  2. I'm curious about this version of the Great Gatsby, so I'm going to watch it later; I always watch movies a few weeks after they come out, because I like watching movies in nearly empty theaters. I do like Carey Mulligan and Leo DiCaprio, but I've heard that a lot of critics didn't like the movie.

  3. I recall that Gatsby WAS assigned in our class. I think it was AP English in 12th grade. I do recall that I did not read the book but did listen to the class discussions and wound up making an A in the class anyway. Lesson learned: the tests in that class were not hard enough.

  4. Given all the Gatsby reviews this one is truly great.