Confession time: even though I’m an English major, I’ve never read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I know, I know. Literature lovers, to order your whips for the flogging, call 1-800-PENANCE. It’s not that I don’t care about the book; I’ve always been curious about it, if only to get the references Snoopy keeps making to it. It’s just that I haven’t gotten around to reading it, and with the backlog of unread books on my shelves right now, I wouldn’t anticipate it happening anytime soon.
What is happening soon is the arrival of the film adaptation in theaters. Needless to say, the trailer caught my attention. Apart from the literature connection, it’s loud, flashy, and full of unique character. But is the movie it advertises worth your time, or should you just read the book? Well, as an English major, I’m supposed to say that the book is always better, but let’s put that bias behind us and judge this movie solely based on the trailer. (To follow along, go to YouTube and watch The Great Gatsby (2013) – Official Trailer [HD].)
So who stars in this movie? We have Leonardo DiCaprio in the titular role, bringing experience from such films as Titanic, Inception, and Shutter Island. Costarring as Nick Carraway is Tobey Maguire, most famous for his role as Spider-Man. And Gatsby’s love interest, Daisy Buchanan, is played by Carey Mulligan, a woman who is best known for her roles in Pride and Prejudice, Drive, and, most importantly, the Doctor Who episode “Blink.” So we have Dom Cobb, Spider-Man, and Sally Sparrow all in one movie. This film is a nerd paradise.
And this paradise is directed by Baz Luhrmann, the man who directed Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge. It definitely shows in the trailer; the bright colors, modern music, sweeping shots, and party atmosphere definitely hark back to the latter film. Is that a good thing? I don’t know; I haven’t seen Moulin Rouge either (there are a lot of things in this life I have not experienced).
We open to an aerial view of New York, where people go to tailgate in moving cars. The narrator tells us that here in the twenties, “The buildings were higher, parties were bigger, the morals were looser, and the liquor was cheaper.” The CG was more pervasive, the autotune was more annoying, and the choice of music was more anachronistic. Also, I think the narrator is lost. He says it’s New York, but based on the concentration of scantily clad dancers, martinis, fireworks, and confetti, this is clearly modern-day Las Vegas.
We are then introduced to Gatsby through the rumors told about him. A woman dressed in green asks Peter Parker, “Do you know him?” No, but I know the eye shadow goes above the eye, not below it. Use a mirror next time, darling. One man says Gatsby is a war hero, while another insists that Gatsby does not exist. Well, who do you think is throwing this party, then? A couple of white mice? But finally, one of the servants tells a woman who looks like Olive Oyl’s sister that Mr. Gatsby wants to see her alone. A mysterious recluse wants to see an unattached woman without any witnesses? Better bring a Taser, Miss Oyl.
The next scene shows Gatsby and Daisy telling each other how certainly glad they are to see each other. Yes, we’re certainly glad to see you, Gatsby. Now go dry yourself off; you look like you went swimming in that suit. We cut to Peter Parker and a guy named Meyer Wolfsheim talking about Gatsby in a club that looks as seedy as anything gets in this movie. Wolfsheim tells Peter that Gatsby is “a man of fine breeding.” And then we see that Gatsby has no problem being seen in that joint of questionable morals. I guess breeding only accounts for so much.
Daisy tells Gatsby, “You always look so cool.” And thus was the word “cool” inducted into the English slang vocabulary, forever to confuse time travelers from the past about temperature changes. “The man in the cool, beautiful shirts.” Which he then proceeds to fling around the room. You like my shirts? Here, take them all!
But things take an ominous turn as we hear someone say, “She has to tell him she never loved him.” And if I knew who “she” is, whom she has to tell, or who is speaking, that would actually mean something. I’m sure all you Fitzgerald fans are screaming the answer at the screen right now, but for someone who has never read the book, that line is so out of context that it serves no purpose in the trailer except to eliminate dead space. Still, the storm clouds continue to loom … or maybe that’s just the smoke from the biggest cigar in the history of the universe that some guy with a mustache is smoking. Anyway, Miss Oyl tells Peter Parker, “I’ve just heard the most shocking thing!” I heard you did a jazz dance with another woman right in front of your ex-girlfriend because you were infected with an alien symbiote which turned you into a moody punk. “It all makes sense!” And Daisy tells Gatsby, “I wish we could just run away.” No, dear, don’t give the audience ideas.
We then move into the climactic montage accompanied by screaming music that definitely wasn’t around in the twenties. Gatsby is still soaking wet (Seriously, you have more money than some small countries. Buy a towel!), Peter Parker dresses up in Magneto’s civilian clothes, two separate couples roll around in bed, and—hey, the eyes on the optometrist’s billboard! That’s a major symbol from the book! And you all thought I didn’t know anything about Fitzgerald’s work. It symbolizes … um … um … don’t blink? (What? I couldn’t review a trailer with Sally Sparrow in it and not use a Weeping Angel joke.)
Mustache Man asks, “What kind of a row are you trying to cause in my house?” Judging by the next scene, he’s trying to start World War I in your house. Everyone starts acting as if they’re in a war, anyway; Peter Parker goes berserk because he’s just now realized he’s in an art movie, and Gatsby lays into Mustache Man. And the trailer ends with Daisy telling Gatsby, “I wish I had done everything on Earth with you.” Armed robbery, genocide, slave trading; I wish I’d done it all with you.
So based on the trailer, do I recommend this movie? Eh, sort of. On the bright side, it’s based on a work of classic literature, it has some great actors, and it’s visually stunning. The film definitely captures the excesses of the twenties in every shot. On the downside, some of the acting can feel stilted; it’s very hard to believe Leo calling someone “old sport.” There’s also a good bit of problematic content that will alienate some families trying to introduce their kids to the classics. Plus, from what I know of the two movies, this one feels a lot like a stylistic retread of Moulin Rouge. It looks pretty, sure, but it’s not original.
So if you’re a lover of great books or of art films, yeah, go see it. Otherwise, this may not be your film of choice. Will I see it? I probably will eventually, but not in theaters. I don’t dislike this film, but it’s not quite my cup of tea. Until I do see it, I’ll just watch Titanic, Spider-Man, and “Blink” all at the same time on HD screens. It’ll be about the same.
The Great Gatsby is owned by Warner Bros.