Let’s get straight to it. I’ve been chronicling my excitement and anxiety about Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby here on College Candy for the past few months and finally got to see the movie in 3D last night. I am just going to talk about what the movie did well and where the movie fell flat. Then I’ll tell you how I felt overall. The film has generally gotten negative to mixed reviews.
Baz Luhrmann is known for his luxe, decadent and visually rich films like Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge. Gatsby was no different. A lot of people were wary of the lively, bustling imagery of the roaring twenties because they didn’t feel as though that came across in the book. I would say, it’s easy to miss the cultural climate Fitzgerald establishes in the novel because it’s merely a backdrop and the context. The film however makes the cultural intensity palpable. A lot of the scenes were as rambunctious as I pictured in my head, especially early on in the film when Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) and Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) are in Myrtle Wilson’s (Isla Fisher) New York City apartment drinking with some fiery, flappers and bohemians. New York City looks stunning and gritty – everything you’d hoped it would look like – a party you weren’t invited to, where poor and rich mix and Black and white mingle.
It’s easy for “period pieces” to ignore the fact that people of color existed. Mad Men and Downton Abbey try their best to get away with creating this sphere where white people are completely closed off to the racial inequalities of the time. There isn’t a person of color in Mad Men until Civil Rights became a national issue the show had to acknowledge. Which we know is bull because in NYC there were non-whites everywhere and there were plenty of whites who didn’t have a problem with them being around. Luhrmann doesn’t write in Black characters but he does include them as a part of the city’s culture, citizens and Gatsby’s patrons, this also helps re-establish Tom Buchanan’s character as the racist he is portrayed to be in both the book and film.
So who displayed their acting chops best? Tobey Maguire, who I am not even a fan of, was a great Nick Carraway. Tobey is always good at looking innocent and unwitting but in the film he was able to make Nick’s quietly judgmental side come across. Nick’s character is notorious for silently throwing shade at everyone around him but never really looking at himself. Joel Edgerton was a great Tom as well. He was butch, dismissive, aggressive and blue blooded through and through and was the guy you were supposed to keep rolling your eyes at the whole time.
The film stayed true to the straight-forward plot for the most part. I wouldn’t have liked a Hollywood Gatsby twist where everyone lives happily ever after. The soundtrack worked well, by the way. Now to the not so good.
I am going to start off with the 3-D. Unless you can afford it, I would urge you to save your money. The film was shot in 3-D but does absolutely nothing with it. Sometimes when the camera zooms in on someone’s face they will appear more prominent on screen. Leaves look closer to you. That’s about it. There were so many cheesy flashbacks that it felt like I was watching a very long episode of Gossip Girl.
Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki) and Nick Carraway’s relationship does not exist. Their romance which was a pivotal part of the book and to empathizing with Nick’s character is completely gone. Jordan Baker is present but she barely has any lines. This really steams my carrots because I loved her in the book. She was a feminist. She wore pants. She golfed. She was witty, clever and put Nick in his place all the while making it more apparent how stupid, vapid and shallow Daisy had become due to the poor treatment of women and the expectations of society and status.
This brings me to Daisy Buchanan’s character. I like Carey Mulligan but . . . no thank you. Daisy Buchanan is known for a few things, she is pretty, she is shallow, she is a bad mother and she loves money. Basically Daisy is a Kardashian in the book. In the movie Daisy is sad, romantic and just looks depressed most of the time. She is made to be a victim. Look, Daisy Buchanan is a victim to gendered expectations in the book but she is also supposed to represent the worst kind of victim. The kind who cowardly lets circumstance destroy and shape you only so that you become a part of the problem which makes girls pretend to be fools, robs them of agency and turns them into objects that men like Gatsby and Tom feel like they can buy with expensive gifts. Let’s face it, in the novel, Daisy welcomed being bought.
That’s why Jordan’s character was so important, she shows you can be more than what’s expected of you. With both of these female characters falling flat the women in the film become completely objectified, unimportant and most of all booooooooorrring. (It’s supposed to be entertainment after all!)
However it makes sense that the film would try to ignore the struggle with sexism and status that ran throughout the novel’s pages. It wants you to focus on Gatsby’s love for Daisy. “Love.” His obsession with her is supposed to be charming.
In reality the novel uses Gatsby’s desire to impress Daisy with wealth and status as metaphor to explore and criticize the idea of “new” and “old” money – which was deeply rooted in the idea that some people, like Tom, believed they were inherently born to be better than everyone else because they were born into status, while others, like Gatsby, believed your status, life and legacy were things you could master. That’s a discussion of the American dream and empire not a love story about a guy who really digs some chick. The movie doesn’t really stay true to that fundamental discussion and so it feels like it’s missing something.
How did Leo do? He tried. I didn’t find his character to be magnetic or flamboyant the way he is described in the books. He was sort of awkward and intense and wore colorful suits. I wasn’t feeling it. Gatsby is supposed to be the man you don’t want to be. Someone who measures their self-worth by how much they have and who they have. In the movie you simply want his mansion and hope that he gets the girl. Instead of being annoyed with him, Nick Carraway loves him. That completely misses the point.
Gatsby says ‘Old Sport’ at the end of every freaking sentence. Do not play a drinking game with this fact. You WILL DIE.
Gatsby loves Daisy. Daisy doesn’t really love him but she misses him because Tom is cheating on her. Gatsby is disappointed but hopeful they will be together. Gatsby dies. The end. That’s the trajectory of the movie. It’s over 2 hours long. Does that sound fun or entertaining to you? If yes, go see it. If you were hoping for something that had the depth of Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire then just watch those shows instead.
If you haven’t read the book, you might enjoy the movie more. I want to know what you all think of the film or the book! It’s been a couple of years since I read the book so if I am remembering things wrong let me know in the comments!