Feb 21, 2020
The Great Gatsby (2013)
[Note from the editor: The Agony Booth is currently conducting a search for new article writers. This review was submitted by prospective staff writer Chelsey McQuitty. Enjoy!]
Warning: this review contains spoilers (for an 88 year old novel)…
The Great Gatsby (2013) is the latest screen adaptation of the timeless classic by F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you’ve ever had to sit through an American literature class in high school, then chances are you’ve had to read this “Great American Novel”. You’ve also probably caught one of the previous screen adaptations.
For anyone who skipped out on the book and the lectures in school, The Great Gatsby takes place in the 1920s, and is essentially a pretty dark and distorted love story about a man named Gatsby (played here by Leonardo DiCaprio) who throws lavish parties that everyone in the New York area attends, with no invitation required. It’s later revealed that Gatsby is throwing these parties in hopes that a long lost love, Daisy (Carey Mulligan) will one day wander in so he can sweep her off her feet, despite the fact that she’s married.
Luckily enough for Gatsby, Daisy’s cousin Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves in next door, and after a whole lot of runaround, Gatsby gets Nick to invite Daisy to tea. The two of them fall right back in love, and they begin to make plans to be together. Of course, this means Daisy must tell her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), who’s also having an affair, which becomes a pretty big issue for her, because she’s conflicted on whether or not she still loves him. For some reason, Gatsby and Daisy decide it would be best to tell her husband in front of Nick and a professional golfer (who’s supposed to be Nick’s love interest). It all goes wrong when Daisy’s confession isn’t good enough for Gatsby, and there’s tons of yelling, and Gatsby and Daisy take off in his shiny yellow car. On the way home, someone gets hit by a car, Tom uses the accident to his advantage, and well, to make a short novel shorter, Gatsby dies.
The screenplay for this movie was written by director Baz Luhrmann, who also brought us such vividly beautiful movies as Moulin Rouge!, Strictly Ballroom, and Romeo+ Juliet (also starring Leonardo DiCaprio). So you’re probably guessing that this is a movie designed to make you feel immersed in the Roaring Twenties.
Well, you’d have guessed wrong. Although the images are stunning, and the costumes are pretty spot-on, the movie fails to capture the desperation and the societal upheaval of the times. Sure, we see the decline in morals, the need to drink until the sun comes up, and even some of the racial issues, but it falls short of what Fitzgerald gave us in his novel. It doesn’t help that the whole Jazz Age is swept under the rug, with the entire movie filled with modern songs that take you out of the time period and right back into your own. That’s no fun.
Of course, one of the things the film does seem to get right is the conspicuous consumption. Anyone who’s read the book, or seen any of the films, knows that the characters are all pretty well-off. Even the narrator, who’s just starting out on his career path, has enough money to afford the rent in a nice neighborhood. Throughout the movie, there are several scenes showing how the characters go over the top with everything they buy. From Gatsby’s overabundance of clothes, art, and just about anything material you can think of, to Tom’s love nest apartment, complete with servants and a dog, it becomes apparent that these aren’t the kind of people who spend a lot of time thinking about the less fortunate.
The film also makes a point to draw many things out, just to show how overly dramatic these characters can be. The fainting, squealing, and anger issues are only a few of the ways the characters show their disdain for things that lower class people would be perfectly accustomed to. In fact, every time there’s even a hint of violence, things slow down as if these characters were suddenly stuck in the Matrix.
One of the major problems with the movie was the conversations. A lot of the dialogue seemed to be entirely forced, as if the cast was stuck in class and the teacher was making them read aloud. So many of the conversations with Gatsby seemed this way, and I eventually came to realize that part of the problem was his accent. It seems DiCaprio couldn’t figure out if he was from New Jersey or the Deep South. In theory, this perfectly suits the entire facade that Gatsby has built up, but actually listening to his accent is another story. It only made his iconic “Old Sport” saying seem twice as obnoxious.
And then there are the casting choices. Although DiCaprio and Maguire aren’t exactly the oldest actors in Hollywood, they seemed to be too old for these parts. Both are pushing forty, whereas their characters are meant to be (roughly) ten years younger. On top of that, Maguire seems to think that Carraway is supposed to be a bumbling fool who looks as if he’s never stepped outside in his entire life. Carraway is the book’s narrator, and although he was meant to be an observer, he wasn’t supposed to constantly have a lost-to-the-world expression on his face the whole time, particularly when things were actually happening to him. If there weren’t a bit of backstory on Carraway, I may have believed he was, indeed, an idiot.
On the other hand, Carey Mulligan’s Daisy was pretty spot on. Mulligan managed to create a character that was simple to fall in love with, while still giving you that lingering feeling that you should hate her.
When it comes to movies made from books, it’s often hard to live up to the source material. One thing this particular adaptation did manage to do well was stick to the storyline. Fans of the book will still get to see the key events and elements of the novel, including the pesky green light, so there are no big disappointments here. Of course, you might end up missing out on some of the smaller elements of the book, so don’t look for anything too deep in this film.