The Great Gatsby

On Saturday, Herbie, Audrey and I went to see “The Great Gatsby.” In 3D, because obviously. We dined like kings beforehand, in case you missed the extravagant feast of breakfast foods on Instagram. The three of us were varying degrees of excited about the film, but we all seemed to agree that you shouldn’t go into it thinking it will be exceedingly true to the book. This is going to get spoiler-y, because it’s hard to write a movie review without giving some major plot points away. If you haven’t read “The Great Gatsby” yet, that’s not my fault. Readjust your priorities.

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First of all, the movie starts with a voice-over of the opening lines of the book. Kind of: “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since: Always try to see the best in everyone.” No. That’s not the line, and that’s actually a vastly different piece of advice than book-Nick Carraway’s father gave to him, and it wouldn’t have killed someone to get it right, considering they were so true to the book dialogue in other parts of the film (notably the ending, but we have a ways to go before I get there, in case you weren’t prepared) and how much detail they put into Tom Buchanan’s Hitler-moustache. If they need someone to fact-check next time, call me. The advice was, “‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.'” When you consider the voice-over was being delivered by a movie incarnation of Nick Carraway as a ‘morbidly alcoholic’ patient at a sanitarium (what version of this book did Baz Luhrmann read? Are we just bastardizing texts now?) we were starting on less-than-solid ground.

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Funny that both “Moulin Rouge” and “The Great Gatsby” start with a depressed, drunk protagonist at a typewriter. Funny in that it’s not funny at all and makes me hate Baz Luhrmann even more, and we’re only 45 seconds into the movie. At about the one minute mark, Baz starts smacking you in the face with the symbolism of the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock and the eyes of Dr. TJ Eckleburg. You know, symbolism, which was handled delicately in the book! DELICATELY, BAZ. That was my biggest gripe about the film before I even set foot in the theater: I knew the subtleties and the nuances would be totally lost amid the flapper-themed keg party Baz had his cold, black heart set on. For fuck’s sake, Jay-Z was an Executive Producer. Can you imagine that introduction? “F. Scott Fitzgerald, have you met Jay-Z? You’ll get along. You wrote perhaps one of the most important American novels in history, and Jay-Z knocked up someone from Destiny’s Child. You spent time in Paris to hone your creative talents, rubbing elbows with the likes of Hemingway and Getrude Stein. Jay-Z and Kayne West wrote a rap called ‘N*ggas in Paris.’ IT’S LIKE YOU’RE THE SAME PERSON.”

Anyway, I hated the first half of the film. It was overwhelmingly, obnoxiously ostentatious, but lacking the self-awareness to see the irony of being over-the-top. It wasn’t excessive to mirror the excess of the roaring 20s, or to draw parallels to Gatsby’s opulent lifestyle, throwing parties to fill the emptiness of his existence. It was just opulence for the sake of opulence, and because Luhrmann has a heavy hand and can’t exhibit any form of self-control. The music was anachronistic and if we’re going to start making hip-hop versions of classics, I personally can’t wait for the Snoop Dog soundtrack of “Macbeth.” It was so Baz-y that it might as well have been called “Moulin Gatsby!” and was all just too claustrophobic for me. At one point, there was a confetti canon in the shape of a giant champagne bottle and life-size inflatable zebras in the pool.

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What is this I can’t even.

Everyone raved about the costumes before the film was released, but I was mostly underwhelmed. No, you don’t get points for nailing the style of the timeframe in which your movie is set. That’s your job. Sticking sequins on every exposed surface does not authentic make. Baz managed to cock-up enough other important details that I’m not going to throw him a mercy-bone for making sure Carey Mulligan had the perfect Louise Brooks bob (but she totally did though).

But when all the glitter settled and Flux Pavillion’s grating dubstep nightmare “I Can’t Stop” actually finally stopped, we were left with Leonardo DiCaprio as a phenomenal Gatsby. He was incredible. His affectation, his undeniable swagger in a linen suit, his tearful speech to Tobey Maguire’s doe-eyed Nick about everything he’s done in his life for Daisy’s love, his maniacal chase to reclaim the past, it worked. It worked wonderfully, and Gatsby alone, away from the party was the first moment in the entire movie that I stopped hating everything about it.

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Carey Mulligan is flawless, and that’s all I have to say about that. The role of Daisy is impossible for so many reasons (adding to the list of reasons why we should stop trying to translate this book to a movie) but she delivered a truly absorbing performance. These two alone sold the whole monstrosity for me. I bought into it and I let myself forget how the book ends, and it was beautiful watching them dance quietly, consumed by each other.

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I’LL NEVER LET GO, JAY.

Other Things I Liked: 1. The JG logo that was pervasive across the whole movie, including the branding for the film. The art deco feel was flawless. 2. When Myrtle gets hit by the car. Always. Every time. Even when I read it, I start applauding internally. 3. While I maintain the music was unnecessarily current, this Lana Del Rey song just worked so perfectly. I’ve been listening to it on repeat for days.

4. Leonardo DiCaprio sitting anxiously next to macarons. SWAG.

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5. That they incorporated the last page of the book verbatim into the ending. Could I have done without the Baz-effect of floating typewriter letters in the night sky, swirling around to form “borne back ceaselessly into the past”? A duh, but I’m just grateful for scraps at this point, okay?

If I had to grade it I’d give it a C. If you take away Baz Luhrmann it jumps to a solid A. What worries me the most is that this is setting a precedent for future book-to-film translations, and if we’re setting the bar at “OUTRAGEOUS SENSORY OVERLOAD EXTRAVAGANZA” in 2013, I fear for whatever version my future child will have to endure (6D total immersion with holograms, no doubt). Not everything needs to be “made current” and given a timestamp of a different era. The book worked so well because of the prose, and when you take the focus away from that, what do you have? An Australian megalomaniac with a hard-on for sparkle.

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May 14, 2013 / read / watch / LEAVE A COMMENT / 31

31 comments

  • Thanks, will keep that in mind when I see the 3D movie next month.

    I posted a link to this review at http://forum.discussionstation.com/index.php?topic=400.0

    • Thanks for the link love! I’m curious to see what you think of the movie, since obviously my review will not be everyone’s experience. xo

  • Giant life size inflatable zebras? Holy shitballs, batman. I can’t even. My dad now refuses, hands down, to see the movie because of the Jay Z connection, and apparently my mom read a review that called it “The Pretty Good Gatsby.” And the “pretty good” part was all about Leo DiCap.

    I’m undecided about seeing it still, so thanks for the update.

    • I like your dad. A lot. It wasn’t until the end of the movie that anyone even realized Jay Z had been an executive producer, and then suddenly it ALL MADE SENSE. The reviews I’ve read all sound the same: horrible, why just why, Leo was the best part. Some iteration of that. If you guys end up seeing it I’d love to know what you think! Make Cal read it first, of course ;) xoxo

  • I adore your review! Some of these I didn’t realize until you poit it out – like how delicately Fitzgerald writes the meanings behind things where Baz kind of just threw it up into our faces. But all of its going to be okay because Gatsby is sitting next to a pile of macarons. Flawless!

    • Haha, I’ve had a long love affair with the book, and I knew that putting it in someone else’s hands could have especially dire circumstances. At least for me. My two friends I saw it with had completely different opinions at the end of it, so obviously I can’t speak for everyone! xo

  • the man turned the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet into the swimming pool scene – what did you expect?

    • Hahaha, excellent point! I didn’t like Baz before this movie and I certainly don’t love him now. xo

  • This was the best honest review I’ve seen yet of the film. I kind of had a suspicion about it before it was even released. But then there IS Leo in it and I adore him as an actor. I still kind of want to see it, but will probably wait till it comes out on Netflix.

    • Thanks, Alexa! I love Leo, too, so naturally he was a saving grace in the whole thing. There isn’t any reason you need to see it in the theater, so waiting until it comes out on Netflix wouldn’t be the worst thing. You’ll save $14 that way (fourteen! for 3D!). xo

  • Impeccable reviewing as I fully expected Ms Erin. I just cannot wait to see it now and live it through your comments. Question is, do I read the book first or watch the film first? ;-)
    Thanks doll x

    • There should be a law, and if I’m ever in charge in any capacity I’ll totally make one, that says you have to read the book before you see the movie version. I’m really, really passionate about that. It’s just the best way to go. Rather than let some director tell you what things look like or how characters act or what they wear, let your imagination conjure those things up for you when you read the text for the first time. There’s nothing more magical. xo

  • Oh NO! (well, needless to say, I was sick as a dog last week so I haven’t seen it yet). Say it ain’t so about the costumes. Costumes and set design are really the reason I am so excited about the whole thing. That and that glitter explosion.
    I’m already pretty sure I’ll hate the soundtrack.

    • I hope you’re feeling better!! I wouldn’t recommend sitting for 2.5 hours and watching this unless you’re feeling up to snuff :) The houses were gorgeous, but in a total DIsney-castle kind of joke-y way. Entirely too over the top. And the costumes weren’t anything special, honestly. Sorry to be a downer! xo

  • Whoa my mind is racing with responses. Good review Twinsy!

    First I just have to get out of the way that Moulin Rouge is one of my favorite movies ever. However, having said that, when I found out it was Baz that was in charge of TGG I was none too thrilled. And then when I was watching American Idol (I have really low tv standards) and there was some song by Little wayne or someone and he was rapping with TGG theme in the background, I thought, um, no thanks. I am all for mixing things up. I love that but some things are good because of exactly what they are. They don’t need extra. Like Tim Gunn would say “that looks really over worked. You need to edit, edit, edit.” Where was Tim when filming? Sounds like they needed him. Or you. Maybe that could be a side job.

    I was 100% convinced Leo would be perfect because he just kind of is. For whatever reason it took me years to realize he is actually pretty amazing – might have been from first seeing him on growing pains ;) Anyway I wasn’t convinced Carey Mulligan would be a good Daisy at all. So I am glad to know you liked her in the role. And last I kind of want to print that photo of leo and the macrons out and put it next to my bed. And now I actually want to see it because at least I know the end is good and that’s what I was most worried about. Thanks xoxo

    • I love the Tim Gunn quote because it’s so accurate for this situation. It was SO overworked. The best movies are the ones that seem effortless, and you can’t feel the director’s hand manipulating everything and overworking it. Needless to say, that’s not exactly Baz’s style. But despite that, Leo was amazing because he just is (and I’ll totally forgive him for that horrible movie about diamonds he did with a fake South African accent). I also love Carey Mulligan so I might have had a bias going into it, but if you’ve seen the 1974 Mia Farrow version, you’ll know this was a SERIOUS upgrade. Let me know what you think when you go see it! xo

  • Blurgh, I think you summarized why I DON’T want to see this movie quite concisely. Although I’m sure that Leo and Carey were brilliant, movies like this make me feel like I’ve been taking way too much cold medicine. Thanks for saving me a few hours!

    • Hahah, it did feel decidedly trippy for the first hour. I eye-rolled so hard at one point my head actually flopped back onto the seat. Not cute. xo

  • bahahahahahahahahahahaha!

    • ;)

  • that previous comment needed to stand alone! deliciously ruthless erin… i actually love baz & catherine’s work for exactly what it is… so i shall go into this one with my eyes wide open… i can understand though: if i loved a book & it was completely, unnecessarily bastardised onscreen i’d be spitting sparkle-infused venom at it too! :)

    • Haha, thanks Sue! It’s hard to find an equivalent, but this book is really, really important to me. I’m protective over it and feel like it’s been totally abused in this incarnation. Except for Leo & macarons, because come ON. Enjoy it when you go see it, but don’t waste your money on the 3D version. Not worth it! xo

  • Fully and completely agree! I tried not to get all over the top excited about this movie for fear of disappointment, but well… I just couldn’t help myself. I have waited too long and read this beautiful masterpiece too many times! Plus I had Romeo + Juliet to hold my hope to. But, with that he at least completely took a modern swing at it (minus the language). With Gatsby he was half in, half out. The scene when we first meet Daisy and Jordan was the nail in the coffin for me. Ah, well… Leo and Carey definitely redeemed some of the sad craziness. (Can’t imagine a better man to play Gatsby) But, even Leo can’t dramatically reach out to a green light for eternity and make it work.

    • Hey, Erin! “Half in, half out” is EXACTLY what I was trying to say! You summed it up perfectly. I read a review in Vanity Fair that said Baz should have just made it a musical and just gone for it, because it didn’t work this way with his usual treatment. It either had to be entirely over the top or, well, normal and wasn’t really either. Leo was seriously one of the best people imaginable to play Gatsby, but you’re so right. I wish Scorcese or even Sofia Coppola had taken a stab at the film, with the same cast. I would be so curious to see what would have happened! xo

  • Wow. EPIC disappointment. I have been watching the trailer at least once a week in anticipation – serves me right for being such a stalker I guess. Although I have to admit that after reading a few scathing reviews lately (yours included), my enthusiasm to watch this movie has waned. But I will still watch it because hello, it’s Leonardo Di Caprio… brooding next to a plate of macarons.

    • Haha, don’t feel bad! You might still love it! The two friends I went with had differing opinions to mine and each other’s, so of course everyone’s experience will be different! I don’t want to ruin it for you before you even go and see it. But yeah, there is little not to love about Leo and macarons. Come on! xo

  • Jay-Z knocked up someone from Destiny’s Child. Ha ha. I really don’t get what the big deal with that man is? His songs are awful and I hate his voice and Beyonce’s way out of his league, and she’s getting on my t*ts now too. I thought it was just me that found them irritating and full of how important they are globally. Err no, you’re just musicians.

    And I think Leo was sh&t scared you were going to steal his macaroons.

    This sums up everything I think about this film – Baz Luhrman is truly awful and is Mr Cheesy Pants. But I want to see it for the costumes, jewellery, interiors and LdC and CM.

    What a numpty changing that first line though. Why???

    Love how you and L say ‘I can’t even’ all the time!

    I read the book about 15 years ago and honestly can’t remember a single thing about it, I was entirely underwhelmed, as I was with the Cather in the Rye and to Kill a Mockingbird. I’ m never going to get a Visa when I come see you now am i?

    • Haha, it’s not exactly a requirement to love the great American novels of our time, but it doesn’t hurt either. I can’t believe you really didn’t like Gatsby OR To Kill a Mockingbird! Catcher in the Rye I can understand, I like it but I’m not as OMGWOW over it the way a lot of people are. But To Kill a Mockingbird is inarguably one of the best novels of all time. Hands down. Gatsby too. Maybe you have to be American? I don’t know. Both are so tied to our cultural experiences. Just say how much you hate Baz Lurhmann and they’ll love you :) xo

  • I had a love/hate relationship with the film too, for many of the same reasons.
    I think I’m just too invested in the book to ever be satisfied with a film version, much less a Baz version.

    • The book was far too good to ever be handled by this director, when it comes down to it. xo

  • Aw, I was afraid of this…I’ve been reading the reviews and they have all been appalling, not unlike yours. The reviews also agreed that the movie’s only saving grace is Leo. I would say, “Oh well, you win some, you lose some” but we are talking about The Great Gatsy – Yes, one of the greatest books. The beauty in this book is found in its nuance and subtlety, not the opulence. It’s too bad Baz decided to concentrate on the latter. Though, there you go. Great review, Erin!