The Great Gatsby is a glitzy and fantastical cautionary tale about excess and heartbreak. It’s a literary classic brought to 3D life with decent actors, lavish party scenes, and a cool soundtrack that somehow manages to infuse contemporary rap into the rhythms of the Roaring 1920s. So why didn’t I like it all that much? Perhaps because, ultimately, I felt as disconnected and disillusioned as the characters themselves. They didn’t make me care. Or cry. Or laugh. Or feel much of anything. Granted, the book never grabbed me either, unlike my favorite high school read, “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Now that movie (with Gregory Peck) never fails to move me. It’s as brilliant and enduring in its simplicity as Gatsby is boring and fleeting in its grandiosity. That said, if you do like “The Great Gatsby” novel, then you may glean something more from the movie than I did. My literary-minded seatmate thoroughly enjoyed it.
For those unfamiliar with the story (by F. Scott Fitzgerald), here goes: A nice, smart and idealistic young man named Nick Carraway (Spidey’s Tobey Maguire) moves to New York in the summer of 1922 to get into the bond business. He rents a small house in West Egg, Long Island, next to a garish mansion owned by Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mysterious and charming nouveau riche war vet who likes to throw big parties, affect an English accent, and call everyone “Old Sport”. Nick and Gatsby become fast friends, mostly because Nick happens to be the cousin of Gatsby’s true love, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who lives across the harbor in East Egg with her rich, philandering husband Tom (Joel Edgerton). Gatsby needs Nick’s help to win Daisy back. Nick obliges. Gatsby and Daisy engage in an affair. Things go horribly wrong. Somebody dies. Nick lands in a sanitarium. It’s all quite tragic. Lesson learned: money isn’t everything – especially when it’s wrapped up in corruption, dishonesty and illusions of grandeur.
The highlight of the two-and-a-half-hour long movie comes about 20 minutes in, with the pivotal reveal of DiCaprio as Gatsby. He is, without a doubt, an attractive and commanding presence onscreen. I think he’s an incredibly versatile and underrated actor, though his Gatsby did strike me a bit familiar – almost like a mash-up of his star turns in Catch Me If You Can and The Aviator.
Director Baz Luhrman (Moulin Rouge!) has created a movie that is heavy on style (thus, the marketing tie-ins from the likes of Tiffany’s) but light on substance. It simply lacks the emotional pull that is needed to adapt great words into a truly great film.