And that's a shocker to me, because, initially, I didn't like it. At least the first couple chapters. To me, a lot of it was calling the natives of the 1920s out for not having morals, but doing it in a very iterating, warmed-over fashion and Nick began, to me, as not a very captivating protagonist. However, the chapters after it justify the existence of the first two chapters and everything comes into place. Once that happened, I really liked it. I wouldn't say it's a classic, but it certainly has earned its place in classic literature.
So, a 2nd film adaptation of it (the first one was released in 1974, to my knowledge) was on its way...directed by Baz Luhrman. Oh, shit.
Actually, I didn't feel this way when I first saw the trailers. It looked glossy, suave, and competent enough and it had Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the best actors working in Hollywood currently. Sure, I was in disapproval of the choice to cast the wide-eyed borefest, Tobey Maguire, to play Nick and the surfeit of current music. However, I thought that maybe Maguire wouldn't be terrible, seeing how he has been good in movies, such as Seabiscuit and, of course, the Spider-Man movies. Sure, Baz Luhrman wasn't a master of refinement and he ruined Romeo & Juliet, but he did good with the flawed yet extravagant film, Moulin Rouge.
In addition, I was seeing it as a field trip. Getting out of school to go see a film. BAD-ASS! So, after having finished the book, I went into Gatsby hopeful...and, boy oh boy, I came out hurt.
OK, here's the story of the book. It is the 1920s. Genuine morals have diminished and shallow, vacuous activities, such as drinking and partying, have increased. This really upsets Nick Carraway, a modest West Egg native (an island in New York) who has just recently returned home from war and has now taken up an occupation as a bonds salesman. The only person who doesn't seem to anger him is Jay Gatsby, whom is viewed by Nick with fascination. His intense glamour, his abundance of parties, the constant rumors of him, and slight detachment from people has caught the attention of everyone. He has achieved the American Dream, but is missing the one thing he truly values: Daisy Buchanan, a woman of a higher social class, who is married to Tom Buchanan, he himself is having an affair with a woman named Myrtle, who resides in the Valley of Ashes, where the poor folk live.
Can Daisy and Gatsby break through their social constraints and be united? And is Gatsby not what he seems?
Yeah, the plotline of the film remains the same. But going back to the book, as you can tell by the plot, there is some mournful, incredulous social commentary while still working as its own creations. It creates a modest, mysterious, and romantic atmosphere, not exactly all at once. The writing is very controlled and eloquent.
The film? OK, you know what? Let's stop dancing around my opinion. Let's cut the bullshit. I'm getting right down to the point. I think this film is terrible. I absolutely hate this film. It destroyed any previous hope I had for it.
Right from the beginning, Luhrman, who also wrote the script along with Craig Pearce, a frequent co-writer for Luhrman, gets it all wrong. It begins with Nick as a troubled soul in therapy, depressed, anxious, and prone to spurts of anger. We don't see any of this. It's just on a sheet of paper. We see the doctor treating him is Dr. T.J. Eckleberg, someone who eyes are used as symbolism throughout the novel. The film is then told in flashback with Nick, not merely writing it, but treating us to constant narration. Did Luhrman even read the source material?
I put heavy emphasis on this question because Luhrman just doesn't get it. He does NOT get the spirit of the novel. The novel was dainty and restrained. Not to mention subtle. Subtlety in this film? Pfft! Throw that out the window. The Fitzgerald novel had intense symbolism, accentuating the novel with an assortment of colors, including green, which is the dominant symbol of the film. It represents hope for the reconciliation of Daisy and Gatsby. In the novel, it's controlled. Here, it is uncomfortably blatant. And the way it's executed pretty much makes it obvious.
Also, the mystery of Gatsby is simplisticly handled. In the novel, it is hinted that Gatsby has an shady past. Fitzgerald doesn't directly hint at anything specific. He sounds as confused and puzzled as the readers. In the film, they overdo that aspect so painfully that the film basically violently elbows the viewer in the ribs and says, "Hey. Get it? Foreshadowing! Get it? Get it?" Another aspect that's overdone involves the struggle of Gatsby trying to obtain Daisy. Also, a moment from the novel where Daisy and Gatsby meet after five years is rendered in the movie as a clumsily written piece of slapstick. I mean, it was kinda funny in the book, but not here.
In the book, there is a section where Fitzgerald writes, "[Gatsby] wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: 'I never loved you.'" This shows Gatsby's internal thoughts. It quotes him, vicariously. He doesn't outright say it. In the film, he outright says it! OK, movie. You don't have to say that! THE BOOK ALREADY DID IT FOR YOU, YOU HACKS! If you needed to convey it, that'd be the only time where the maddening narration could've been useful. First, you insert an unnecessary aspect into it and you can't even take advantage of it when it's necessary.
There are, also, certain things that are changed from the book that ruined later parts, especially at the very end with a scene involving Nick doing a certain something that absolutely lowered my intelligence and made me feel unclean and offended. Some aspects from the novel are even underplayed or not even mentioned at all. One example involves a scene at the hotel with Daisy, Gatsby, Tom, Nick, and Jordan, a party girl who is close to Daisy. There is fighting between Tom and Daisy, but in the book, there is wedding music playing in the ballroom below, which provides a callous, ironic counterpoint to the heated and explosive fighting and pretty much states that marriage is a minor failure. In the film, there is none to be found. There's potential there and they don't even use it.
Oh, and the sexual complexity of the relationship between Nick and Jordan is nowhere to be found. Oh, and Daisy's daughter is only shown in one scene for a line or two, whereas in the book, she has restricted time, but she does play a crucial role in a certain moment that pretty much states whether or not Gatsby and Daisy can be together. Oh, and the abusive history of Tom against Daisy? Never mentioned. I'll let die-hard Gatsby fanatics point other moments out on their own websites, but let's just say that the script itself is a tone-deaf, confused mess.
The film, itself, has gotten mixed reviews, thankfully. Some reviews have stated that a viewer needs to surrender any prior literary agenda and just accept it for what it is. You know, maybe they're right. Maybe I should. However, there is one tiny little problem. The Great Gatsby has been engrained as a monument of classic literature and the film has been billed as the adaptation of that book, so it's kind of hard to forget the book when THE WORLD WON'T LET YOU! That's like saying, "Hey, you know that shitty Psycho remake? Well, when you go into it, just forget all about the timeless, influential original film. Just keep an open mind." Doesn't click together. So, surrender the literary source? Uh, no! Denied!
However, aside from the abhorrent script content, it is still crap. One drawback for me of the film is the style. Boy, has it been a while since the style of a film has left me mentally nauseous. Luhrman is known for incorporating fleet camerawork, an epic scope, and a large color spectrum into his films. Hell, Romeo + Juliet did that and I hate that film. However, that film at least had a somewhat enjoyable visual flair and it was cohesive.
This? Jesus. I don't where I've seen more of a obnoxiously garish, overwhelmingly bright, and painfully glib style. I mean, they just overdo it, to the point where it is assaulting and practically suffocating. It's so outlandish and flamboyant that it almost comes across as a satire of The Great Gatsby. I know the book is about glitz and glamour, but in the film, it feels phony and cartoonish, like I'm watching the Smurfs or something. And the funny thing is that the cinematography would've been absolutely gorgeous in another film, but here, it just feel plasticized. They even overdo the Valley of Ashes. Even though the description of the setting in the book matches up with the setting in the film, it still feels too excessive and phony.
Plus, the editor of the film, I guess, has severe, almost scary, ADHD because 99% of the shots last no more than 5 seconds. Some scenes involving backstory and revelations take place in SPEEDING CARS, which wasn't the case in the book. And the ones that do last longer are just flat-out pretentious.
Also, Luhrman is known for clashing the cultures of then and now. It worked in Moulin Rouge, absolutely bombed in Romeo + Juliet, particularly in its loathsome ending, but this film takes it to a new level. When there isn't bombastic music intruding the film the intrusive style of music is from modern artists, even though the film takes place in the GODDAMN TWENTIES! Whenever I heard a Jay-Z song in the mix or when I hear a piano cover of Crazy In Love, I wanted to vomit out my eardrums. No, it's not possible, but that's how I felt.
Also, the acting is flat-out atrocious. Tobey Maguire as Nick? Terrible. Carey Mulligan, portraying Daisy like a curious yet delicate lost puppy, instead of a tormented drunk? Terrible. Joel Edgerton, whose character, Tom, has been polished down to a one-dimensional, sneering dickface? Terrible. Isla Fisher as Myrtle, whose way too glamorous and pretty for the role of Myrtle, even for the context of the book? Terrible. Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby? Terr...ific. Yeah, he actually gives a good performance. Mostly. He plays up the histronics in the second half of the film, which is extremely out of character. Oh, by the way, I hate whenever ANY Gatsby says, "Old sport." It makes me want to abuse their testicles with a fish hook. Just saying.
The romance between Daisy and Gatsby isn't as strong as in the book. In the book, it feels almost desperate and melancholic. In the film, it feels schmaltzy and feels like it's constructed by a Pretty Little Liars writer. Oh, yeah. I went there. The film, also, includes a random sex scene (don't worry, it's PG-13) between Daisy and Gatsby. Many have defended it, claiming that it highlighted the absence of morals, but let's be honest, it's not. It's just there for women to see DiCaprio's shirtless physique and it's constructed in the fashion of a romance novel.
Mainly, the romance isn't strong because the film never gives us a reason why Tom and Daisy shouldn't be together, except for the fact that Daisy and Gatsby are in love. Ugh! Oh, speaking of Gatsby, remember in the 1999 adaptation of Inspector Gadget where they showed the face of Dr. Claw, something never EVER done in the original source material. Well, in this film, they reveal Gatsby prematurely. And when they do, Nick talks to a man about rumors about Gatsby and the man is revealed to be Gatsby himself. In the book, it's a completely different story and I won't even describe it because I don't want to cease my boiling anger.
I was ready for this film. I was up for every second of it and my brain was fighting it. The fact that I don't merely watch despicable qualities of the film, but I have to watch them for almost 2 and a half hours make the experience a tedious one that justifies incessant watch checking. There are a couple of strong and funny moments, but those moments are few and far between in this film. Overall, the film is a bloated, superfluous, misguided mess. I can't call it lazy, but I can still hate it. Think of all the bad aspects of Moulin Rouge, the melodrama of Titanic minus the expertise, crank the level of both of those things up to 11, and you get the idea.
The Great Gatsby revolved around subtlety and this Gatsby revolves around pretentiousness, a quality I absolutely despise. Given the mixed critical reception of both the 1974 film, currently unseen by me, and this film, I think a verdict will arise, stating that Fitzgerald's classic is unfilmable. Take a hint, Hollywood. And DiCaprio, I want you to win an Oscar, but you're not going to get one if you continue to associate yourself with Baz Luhrman. Just saying.
RATING: One star out of four