Friday, May 10, 2013

<i>The Great Gatsby</i>: How Bad Could It Be?

Posted by on Fri, May 10, 2013 at 11:19 AM

Great Gatsby movie Baz Luhrmann
The Great Gatsby: Despite its Great American Novel status, not to mention its author's own Hollywood connections, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby doesn't have the most fruitful record of film adaptations. That's not to say people haven't tried; this article over at PopMatters has an interesting rundown of the four straight-ish adaptations of the book: a 1926 silent version released not long after the book itself, lost to the ages; a 1949 version starring Alan Ladd as Gatsby that apparently makes the character into a more explicit criminal, with henchmen and everything, that is available most prominently on YouTube; the high-profile and crushing bore 1974 version; and the barely-considered 2000 made-for-TV version with Paul Rudd as Nick and Mira Sorvino as Daisy. (I haven't seen it, but Rudd's spot-on casting makes me want to.) None of these have become iconic (or even half-iconic) enough to keep Baz Luhrmann (and Warner Brothers financiers) from swinging for the fences on his lavish, brand-new, 3D take on a novel slim enough to cover in an evening if you're so inclined. Luhrmann got his old Romeo Leonardo DiCaprio to suit up as Gatsby; DiCaprio's late-90s carousing buddy Tobey Maguire to assay Nick; and It-ish Girl Carey Mulligan to attempt what Mia Farrow could not: to make Daisy even the tiniest bit transfixing despite her carelessness.

The reviews so far have not been kind, though the few I've skimmed have a haughty, more-appreciative-than-thou reverence for the book and what Luhrmann has overlooked or misunderstood or screwed up in his interpretation. For all I know, Luhrmann has, like so many before him, succumbed to a book that may be too rooted in beautiful language and interior monologue to make an easy transition to the screen. But all of this Baz-doesn't-get-it-and-ugh-3D-why-I-never monocle-dropping strikes me as carping that could've been written after the first trailer. For all I know, Luhrmann really has screwed up royally (by the time you read this, I'll have attended a 10pm Thursday night show dressed in a white blazer and tie, so you can see where my biases live), but considering he shepherded one of the most distinctive Shakespeare adaptations with Romeo Plus Juliet, as the not-kids-anymore call it, as well as one of the best movie musicals of the past, oh, let's say 50 years with Moulin Rouge, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on lavish, somewhat nutty challenges. For now, I'll pre-emptively say that those who complain about the excess, glitz, and modern soundtrack choices of this version deserve every gauzy, soft-focus frame of the '74 embarrassment.

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