Waxing [Cinematically]: The Great Gatsby

When I heard a(nother) Great Gatsby movie was being made, I sighed. It won’t work, I said. It hasn’t before, and it won’t this time. The book doesn’t translate. It’s beauty is in the density of beautiful words, splayed out for you as Gatsby in his own vulnerability.

It’s not a thriller. It’s not an exciting plot. It’s an exhaustive excursion into the soul of a man guided by love, living in a new society that doesn’t seem to appreciate exhaustive searches into anything. Life had too much going on, what with all the riches and all.

Then I learned DiCaprio signed on. Well, I like him, this could be a good sign. And Baz Luhrmann is going to direct. I like him, too. Okay, two things going for it. Carey Mulligan, yeah, she’s alright.

Okay, maybe this thing has a shot.


But, still, with so little offering toward making a viable film from this book’s material — Baz was either going to see something no else had saw and make a masterpiece, or fall into the same trap that the Redford version fell into (and, though, I haven’t seen it, the review the oldest version seems to get too).

It may sound trite, but I waited to hear reviews before seeing Gatsby. The first review of indifference I heard (and then subsequently mixed reviews from there), told me everything I needed to know. It was going to suck.

I just saw it. Last night. Now half a year since it’s release. And, gosh, was it bad.


Sure, maybe had it not had to be made in the shadow of one of the finer American novels ever written, it could stand up on a leg. But you have to know what you’re getting yourself into when taking on a project like this.

I’ll start with the small slice of good. Leo didn’t disappoint. Baz gave what was expected; gaudy, gaudy colorful scenes, parties, a soundtrack that didn’t fit, dialogue that was snappy enough to either matter TOO much or not matter at all; and some sexiness to tie that all together.

The dialogue failed though. It couldn’t keep up with Fitzgerald’s writing. It’s a tall task, for sure. But half the time Toby McGuire’s Nick Carraway spoke, it felt like he was splurted out lines fed to him through an earpiece. He failed to see how even the works’ most crucial lines (“you can’t repeat the past”) have to actually fit into a context for them to establish their power. [See: every powerful quote you remember from the cinema]. If you miss, it becomes laughable. Laudable. Almost “camp”.

McGuire missed just about every time he spoke. His writing scenes were atrocious (why, WHY couldn’t we just have gotten his Wonder Boys character thrown in just for the f*ck of it?).

Mulligan was barely allowed to speak. Fine. Daisy doesn’t need a whole lot of words. But she has to command attention somehow. Her Daisy looked too scared to even be on camera.

And then, the eyes. The eyes of the Dr. TJ Eckleburg. A fine literary device that Fitzgerald carried through his novel. Luhrmann threw that away. It was no longer device. It was a smack to the head. Like saying, “HEY, here’s a metaphor. You see, we put it in. We’re literaries! LOOK, LOOK!” and not giving anything more.

Put it in the background, dude. You don’t need to shove it into our corneas. Those that want to find that, will find it. Those that don’t, don’t need to. They’re probably waiting for more scenes of Gatsby’s front hallway.

There’s more to complain about. I won’t go into the butchering of some of the more important lines in the novel (“she smelled like money” or Gatsby in the image of god or just the unnecessary voice overs Luhrmann decided to put in because he spent so much time on pizazz he forget to tell the story), but I’ll stop there.

Linda Holmes actually did a pretty good review of the movie; and its relation to the book for NPR. If you want to read more on the movie, it’s a good place to head.

If I had to score it: 4.8.


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