I think it’s safe to say that Baz Luhrmann’s film version of The Great Gatsby was one of the most anticipated films of the year, especially since we were teased with a release date which was then put back by almost six months. I was very keen to see it because I’d read the book and was intrigued to see how it would be turned into a feature length film, because it seemed to me to be the sort of story that needs to be read rather than watched. I was a bit concerned about whether it would work or not, because I think Nick Carraway’s narration is the key to understanding the whole story and it’s harder to convey a first person point of view in a film rather than a book. I can’t explain it very well, but for me he’s the sort of character who needs to have his thoughts read rather than visually portrayed. The trailer looked super glitzy though and I am a big fan of flapper dresses, so of course I had to give it a go.
I had a few issues with the film. The biggest issue I had was the casting of Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. I’m not really a fan of Tobey Maguire, he just always comes across as being a bit too goofy for me, and he was just so far removed from the Nick Carraway I imagined while reading the book. I know that’s just a personal thing and that it’s always hard to cast book adaptations when the audience already have such a clear idea of who and what the characters should be, but I have to say Tobey Maguire irritated me from start to finish. In my head I pictured more of a Matthew Goode type playing Nick, but to be honest I wouldn’t have minded anyone else playing him, just as long as it wasn’t Tobey Maguire. He’s just one of those actors that I don’t like for reasons that I can’t quite put my finger on (other than the general goofiness, he just can’t pull off ‘serious’ roles).
The second problem I had was the use of 3D. It just seemed completely and utterly pointless! Normally I don’t bother with 3D versions of films unless it’s the sort of action packed film that’s filled with explosions and things flying out of the screen and making me jump, but The Great Gatsby is exactly the sort of film that 3D effects are wasted on. I didn’t even notice it during the film apart from the opening and closing art deco credits, and one scene where it was raining. The rest of the time I couldn’t even tell it was meant to be 3D, and yet 3D films are so much more expensive to watch. It just seemed like a really strange idea to add 3D effects to this kind of film, and an unnecessarily expensive idea at that.
Thirdly, I didn’t like the soundtrack. It’s asking a lot for me to put up with music from the likes of Beyoncé and old misery guts Lana Del Rey to begin with (give me a blast of Aerosmith any day!), but it just didn’t seem fitting in a film set in the roaring twenties. (I know Beyoncé’s older than she looks, but I’m pretty sure she wasn’t partying at the time of F. Scott Fitgerald). It was just a bit bizarre, it was like the film was trying to be authentic to the book throughout with all the flapper costumes, the little hats and the period cars, and yet trying to be modern at the same time with the choice of music. I could see what they were trying to do, The Great Gatsby was a modern book for its time and they’re trying to convey the same level of modernity for a 2013 film, but then why bother with the twenties outfits? Why not update the whole thing and set it in the twenty first century? The two elements just seemed like they should be an either/or choice for me, and although I understand and even admire what Baz was trying to do there, it just didn’t work for me.
I did like the film, but I thought it was a bit disappointing. It was fine, but I wanted it to be more than fine. There was so much hype and expectation around it that I really wanted it to blow me away, and it didn’t. It just felt a bit safe and a bit too predictable, even with the slightly off the wall soundtrack choices. For the most part, it was pretty faithful to the book, which I did appreciate. I wish Jordan’s role hadn’t been downscaled as much as it had, because it was Nick’s treatment of Jordan and their interaction which really helped to form my opinion of him, and which was the main reason why I didn’t like him as a character. Without his poor treatment of Jordan, I felt like my dislike of him was unjustified, and that also he was less well defined as a character and a bit more of a lemming who’s willing to follow Gatsby around rather than do anything in his own interest or lead a proper life of his own. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of Nick writing/telling the story of Gatsby to a psychiatrist, I’m fairly (although not completely, I must admit) sure that it didn’t happen in the book, and I don’t think it really fits with the character that F. Scott Fitzgerald portrayed. I’m also not completely convinced that Nick found out the real story of Gatsby from the man himself; I can’t be certain, but I thought it was revealed by Gatsby’s father who attended his funeral, along with the strange drunken man found lurking in the library at one of the parties. I didn’t like the idea that nobody went to his funeral, it’s just too depressing and too frightening that somebody could have had such an impact on so many people’s lives and then instantly been completely ignored and forgotten from the moment of death. The library man attending the funeral in the book made it just that little bit more bearable an idea, and I think it would have been a nice touch to include him in the film.
If you’re planning on watching The Great Gatsby (and it is worth a watch, despite all that I’ve said), try to separate it in your mind from the media hype and the talk of ambitious projects. Watch it without any expectations, and I think you might be pleasantly surprised. I’m sure fans of the book will be pleased that the film is such a close match, but try not to bring any expectations or pre-conceived ideas from the book either (otherwise, like me, you’ll end up grinding your teeth every time Tobey Maguire’s on screen). It was a good film and I did enjoy it, it was pretty much what I expected (which did disappoint me a little as I hoped it would be bigger and better), but it is worth a watch. Just don’t bother with the 3D version though, it’s certainly not worth the extra money (unless you get a huge kick out of seeing art deco seem to appear just that little bit closer to your face).
See previous Film Review featuring Springsteen and I, or read a Book Review of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.