The Great Gatsby Review
By Bret Dorman
Never read The Great Gatsby. I was never assigned to read the book in high school, not that that matters. I’ve written entire essays on how great books are having merely perused through the SparkNotes versions (which were still too long). Therefore, my review won’t be about how The Great Gatsby movie ruined The Great Gatsby book. Instead, my review will be about, for better or worse, the story of The Great Gatsby (as told by the film) and how I found it to be completely boring and dull.
I don’t care how many party scenes, contemporary artists, and faux-car chases you put in a movie, if that movie is about mystery and love, I want there to be a good mystery and moving chemistry.The Story: Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire) is a mentally ill depressed ex-raging alcoholic. But then he writes a book! And that book is about his one time neighbor and super millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a guy who throws a lot of parties! And also his cousin and Gatsby’s ex-gal pal Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her cheating husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) and their friend/lady golfer Jordan (Elizabeth Debicki). But who is Gatsby? HOW DOES HE GET ALL HIS MONEY! WHAT IS LOVE? BABY DON’T HURT ME! Also, drinking was illegal back then but everyone still drank a lot.
Okay, so basically everything about The Great Gatsby left me annoyed, confused, or bored. Now I get to gripe about them one by one. I feel I must do this because I am hoping someone can provide retorts to my gripings and not just “Oh I liked it the movie was pretty.” Which seems to be most reactions coming out of the theater and makes me more confused.For starters, the one thing no one can defend is the framing device. Nick is an old man, as evidenced by his oncoming comb over and old man imitation voice. I respect the decision to not cake on a ton of make up onto Toby, but its still funny to go (slightly?) into the future with the same actor. I honestly don’t know why we need this device. As with Titanic, Water For Elephants, and Life of Pi, the audience must sit through a person reminiscing about the story and giving copious voice over to explain all of the things the movie can not convey. I understand the decision to use voice over, as much as I don’t like that decision (it litters the entire film), but to use it like this? It’s pointless and almost insulting. Or perhaps the filmmakers were worried people walking in 5 minutes late would be confused. “Why is there so much Jay-Z music?! How come the cars look funny?! WHY DON’T THEY USE CELL PHONES?!”
While we are on the subject, the soundtrack is filled with modern day artists! Isn’t that so… clever?! Meh. The music is used to help us relate to the characters and showcase how their parties were just as crazy as ours, but the film is still dated. Concerns of business reputations and family matters seem silly in a day and age where scandals come and go, marriages sometimes last months, days, or even hours. The music collectively makes for a good and interesting soundtrack, but in the movie its merely a music video gimmick that doesn’t gel with the rest of the movie. As with the editing (hectic) and visuals (flashy), the music distracts from the intimate setting. The Great Gatsby seems to want to be about the intricacies of human relationships, yet we rarely spend a quiet moment with anyone.And when we do settle into a scene, most of the dialogue (and voice over) are about the subject at hand. The words “love” and “mystery” are tossed around with an empty weight. I don’t want to see a character talk about how in love he is, I want to see a character fall in love. I don’t want to see a news paper flash montage about how Gatsby and how he came out of nowhere, I want to see a scene where the reveal of his true identity actually might have consequences. Daisy claims to be unhappy with one person, then happy with another, yet acts irrationally when confronted with a decision about which lover she will chose. For an entire scene I see Gatsby talking to Nick about how in love with Daisy he is, then he throws shirts at her Oprah style (“You can have wool shirts! Silk shirts! Cotton Shirts! All the shirts!!!”) and then she starts crying. Nick looks on creepily as the two sort out their forbidden and lost love. What a great movie! For a movie about people and relationships, there sure is A LOT of CGI work going on. I get that Old Timey New York City is probably best represented in CG form, but really, limit yourself. Half of this movie seems polluted with a CGI gloss that takes you right out of the movie and intimacy. For somehting like Transformers, the CGI doesn’t matter, because its used for giant alien robots fighting. Its so fantastically silly the CGI doesn’t distract. But in this movie, it’s used to the point where nothing seems real. I guess some could argue that helps highlight the characters being fake, but I take issue with that too. I’m basically watching a bunch of people pretend to be something they aren’t. And in the end I’m supposed to get all misty eyed because of how tragic it is and how it gets in the way of TRUE LOVE. But instead I’m really watching a good man compromise his morals for money and try to impress a ditzy lady when really he could have just stayed the same and had the same ditzy lady. These characters come off as misguided, shallow, and stupid. Which is fine and I get that’s part of the point, but if you’re going to make unlikable characters, they still have to be INTERESTING. Case in point: Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. He’s misguided and makes stupid decisions, but its interesting to see his downfall. Of the things I sort of liked: The party scenes. It’s obvious Baz Luhrmann an film a chaotic party scene. The camera invites the audience in on the mayhem without ever intruding. It’s neat and fun! But there’s only a couple scenes of parties before moving on to the poor melo-dramatic soap opera junk. I did like Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan, who sort of has a mysterious sex appeal of her own and introduces us to the world of Gatsby and his intrigue, before dropping off to become nothing. Lastly, I did like the big confrontation between Gatsby and Tom Buchanan. The scene has some pretty poor build up but Leo and Joel make every little moment to every loud peak of the stare down turned shouting match absolutely intense. If only the rest of the movie was as consequential, instead of meandering around while people tell you that what you’re watching is tragic and hopeful and sad and happy.
Finally, I just want to say, that whenever someone brings up the visual style of the movie, its not enough for me. “Yeah, but it looked good!” So what? Its a Hollywood production with MILLIONS of dollars spent making sure its TO PAR with the rest of Hollywood. Movies have a standard look to them. The Great Gatsby fits that standard. Its a bit more sparkly perhaps than your average flick, but its no better looking. Movies nowadays look good. They are shot on really nice cameras and put through computers to make sure every shot matches and every potential color heightened or softened to the perfect amount. All mainstream movies look good. That’s part of the reason why you pay so much to see them. That’s why the credits are so long and have so many people. But when the visual style, editing, CGI, music, acting, and stupid characters all clash together, you get a mess. Perhaps some people will be overwhelmed by it all and leave only dazzled by the visual kinetic flair, but I party to movies like Dead Alive, Snatch, and Crank (2) on a regular basis.
In Conclusion, like my review with G.I. Joe Retaliation, I didn’t mind all the silliness if the action was good. But if the whole point of your story is to have action scenes, and you fail at that, your story can only be so fun. It’s a shame when everything positive goes to waste because the one thing you were supposed to do, you didn’t. Well, The Great Gatsby is like that, only instead of ‘action’ scenes, its ‘romance’ scenes. And instead of all the other stuff being a fun ride with moments of disappointments, the entire movie was like a frustrating conversation where someone talks about how they want to talk about something else but never change the subject. Stop talking about talking about it and just do it already!
Final Grade: D-
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