i saw the great gatsby
i saw the great gatsby last night against my own advice to skip it. the reviews have been less than favorable, but i had to do it. it’s my favorite book, and the first one i remember really reading.
i was in 9th grade when it showed up on our syllabus. i read the whole book in one sitting. the wealth obsessed people of the 20’s and the catastrophic fall of the protagonist weren’t tragic or disturbing to me at the time. they were inspiring. when you’re in 9th grade, money, power, and girls seem pretty f**king awesome (hell, they still do, but it’s different now). in all honesty, i have to believe my 9th grade self would have loved baz lurhmann’s empty, mess of a movie.
you see, old sport, the movie is not entirely awful (i’m being nice because some scenes looked great). lurhmann captures the theme of excess perfectly. each party scene is exactly how you pictured it in the book: big, elaborate, crazy, fun. there just isn’t anything else in the film. it’s as if he read it in 9th grade and never again.
the central themes that make the book a beloved classic are missing from this film. there are hints here and there of the emptiness of wealth and the hollowness of the upper class, but you don’t get that from watching the movie. each scene feels half finished and only there to show you just how big baz lurhmann can make it.
and god bless the cast, because they had very little to work with from the hack-job of a script that was given to them. poor tobey maguire’s nick carraway was a recovering alcoholic stuck in an asylum writing a book called “gatsby.” i cringed every time his doctor came in and told him to keep writing. he also came across as more of a stalker than a casual observer.
leo’s gatsby was one dimensional, but again, it wasn’t his fault. the screenwriters didn’t give him any depth. when you read the book, you’re pulling for gatsby. you want him to get the girl. you want him to win. in this adaptation, you just want him to quit saying “old sport.” in fact, the girl next to me leaned over to her friend and said, “if he says ‘old sport’ one more time, i’m leaving.” (she didn’t. it was empy threat.)
bottom line: the film is visually entertaining, but lacks the depth and power of the novel. i’m glad i saw it, but don’t think i’ll ever watch it again. hopefully, we won’t have to wait another 39 years for another director to take this book back to the big screen. the source material is there. you just have to use it.