Friday, June 21, 2013

The Summer of Gatsby

"Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it."

Well, today is technically the first day of summer and the first day of my blog. Woo hoo! Yeah, let's see if I'm still cheering at the end of this post. I wasn't sure what to start my blog with, but, being the longest day of the year, this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby came to mind. And then I thought "hey--I can write about that!" Yay transitions!

Anyhoo, so I'm sure you've all heard about or seen Baz Luhrmann's new adaptation of The Great Gatsby. It came out over a month ago, but I think it's still worth talking about. I saw it the day it premiered, but not early enough to escape an outpouring of reviews, mostly of the negative nature. I was foolish and read a few before seeing the film for myself. Most praised Leonardo DiCaprio's performance as Gatsby, but seemed to dislike everything else. It was too lavish, too much, and the characters were too shallow. My first reaction to this was did they even read the book?

Too be honest, I wasn't too thrilled when I first heard about the movie. The Great Gatsby has been one of my favorite novels since high school, so naturally I would be nervous about any film adaptation. The casting of DiCaprio is what really threw me off. Not that I don't think he is a good actor, DiCaprio just didn't look like Gatsby to me. Now Toby Stephens from the A&E adaptation fits the role of Gatsby visually: dark hair, ridiculously perfect teeth, and an almost Ken-Doll-like appearance that reflects the artificiality of Gatsby's facade. DiCaprio on the other hand was too blonde, too boyish, yet old if that makes any sense. 

However, the critics' mutual praise of DiCaprio's performance is the one thing I turned out agreeing with them on. Appearances aside, DiCaprio's performance as Jay Gatsby is unlike any other I have seen. He gives Gatsby a larger emotional range, showing more of a struggle to maintain his false identity. While not in the book, Gatsby's blowup with Tom demonstrates the breakdown of his act more clearly and makes his ultimate defeat more tragic. However, one could say that DiCaprio made Gatsby too likeable. Part of the novel's conflict is Nick's view of Gatsby. Like Nick, you're never quite sure if you like Gatsby or not until the end when he is proven to be slightly less annoying and shallow than other characters--and yes, I'm looking at you, Daisy Buchanan. I always found myself on Gatsby's side in the film while that wasn't the case in the novel. 

Turning briefly to Nick, I was surprised at the general dislike towards Tobey Maguire. Now here's a casting I was excited about from the start. Like DiCaprio, Maguire has a boyish quality to him that works for the role of Nick. While not exactly innocent, Nick does mature in a sense throughout the story and I think Maguire's younger portrayal works. Also, I enjoyed the emphasis on Nick's relationship with Gatsby. Nick ultimately becomes Gatsby's only friend and the development of this relationship is presented more accurately in this version. Also, the fact that DiCaprio and Maguire are childhood friends in real life only makes their interactions on screen that much more enjoyable.

In response to the idea that Luhrmann's adaptation is over the top, all I can say is "yes-yes it is." In my opinion, Luhrmann's use of colors, special effects, and cinematography add to the excess of the 1920's. Everything about this era--especially where Gatsby is concerned--is about being bold, bright, obnoxious, and over the top. Luhrmann's style reflects the attitude of this time.

However, there were a few things I didn't like. The soundtrack completely threw me off. While I appreciated the parallels between the 1920's party lifestyle to today's, the modern music of Jay-Z, Fergie, and so on became a distraction for me and took a long time to get used to. Also, Nick being committed to an asylum was unnecessary. I get that they were trying to create a reason for Nick's narration, but other adaptations used Nick's narrative without making him crazy. Plus, the post-Gatsby-alcoholic-troubled Nick was too reminiscent of emo Peter Parker from the the third Spider-man movie which no one really should mention again. 

In the end, I liked the movie. After re-reading the novel, I see just how faithful Luhrmann's adaptation is to Fitzgerald's text. While some reviews criticize the flatness or shallowness of the characters, they are completely missing the point of the novel. The Great Gatsby isn't supposed to leave the audience satisfied. If anything, it leaves us unsettled and disgusted at the world. Nick's realization of Tom and Daisy's carelessness is the same for the readers/viewers. Tom, Daisy, Jordan, and even Gatsby end up being shallow, fragmented, and artificial people. If you are set on a satisfying, jolly conclusion don't see this movie. But if you want a viewing experience as sad and loud and colorful as one of Gatsby's parties, then head on over, old sport!

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