Sunday, May 12, 2013

Theatrical Review: The Great Gatsby (2013)

Location: Pocono Movieplex
Date: May 11, 2013
Time: 1:10pm
Duration: 143 minutes (+3 trailers)
Party: 3 (mom & sister)

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Nick Carraway- Tobey Maguire
Jay Gatsby- Leonardo DiCaprio
Daisy Buchanan- Carey Mulligan
Tom Buchanan- Joel Edgerton
Myrtle- Isla Fisher
Jordan Baker- Elizabeth Debicki

[Coming Attractions]
One of the best things about going to the movies is seeing the latest trailers.
This comes as a double-edged sword cuz there's always that chance the trailers look so good you find yourself thinking "that looks so much better than what I'm here to see."

First off, "Now you see it," which I think I saw the trailer for way back when before the final Twilight. I swear, every time I see a trailer for this movie, it just makes me want to see it more and more. Between the special effects and the star-studded cast (Mark Ruffalo especially has my attention, even if he is playing the "bad guy" in this), I'm just stoked.

Then was another "Lone Ranger" trailer, likely the same one I saw the previous week with "Iron-Man 3," but with less distraction. Even then and even though it is Johnny Depp, I'm not itching to see that one, at least not at the movies.

Finally, you have the final "Hangover" movie. The best trailer yet. I was laughing my ass off... is it me or is every good-looking movie coming out in May? There's gotta be some sort of magic in the air because I just want to see everything.

Only a dozen or so other people came out for this and sadly, it was at its liveliest during the "Hangover" trailer.
There's nothing quite like being in a theater erupting with laughter, but then again, "Gatsby" isn't that type of movie anyway.

to those unfamiliar with the book, be wary of spoilers

When I first heard about this adaptation, I was excited, especially given the high profile cast. But when the trailers started coming out, I was worried it wouldn't be received well. The "Moulin Rouge" director might have taken things too far with the party scenes and the visuals and so on.

Like so many others, this was one of those books I was assigned in high school. It was 11th grade, Honors English. It was the 2nd grading period (of 4) and my previous grade in the class was a C... it was a rough year, I had C's in all three of my honors courses and to put it bluntly, I was super close to failing PreCalculus (a few points away from a D).

My teacher was kinda old-school in a lot of ways and the previous period's grading was based around "The Crucible" and "The Scarlet Letter," neither of which I did really well on.
But when we started on "Gatsby," he brought in a student-teacher who brought it to LIFE. Not to the nth degree quite like in this movie, but he taught it to us with such energy. Maybe it's just having a fresh, younger perspective on things, but the dude was awesome.
"Farewell to Arms" was another book we went through with him and I did really well on that as well... let's put it this way, he taught things so well that when I tried to reread it, I couldn't get past the first chapter. We got past all that exposition with him and he taught it in terms we could understand.

So it pains me to admit I'd forgotten his last name. His first name was Mike :-P
he also helped direct a Neil Simon play in a school production with probably the best cast of actors my high school ever had. 
Mike Deen... I saved a lot of school newspaper clippings...
After his time with us, Mike gave us each a card with a little something inside...

and I just found it... literally the last place I looked, in a thing of old pictures...
I'm not going to copy the letter word for word, but I'll try to see if he still has this same email address... it's not likely, given this dates back to 2004...  but I'll try... 

Again, I wish I remembered more of Mike's teachings about this book because I would have referenced it plenty of times. 

One thing that does stick out and they brought plenty of attention to it in this film... he noted the significance of the green light Gatsby was always reaching for...
then there was the well-known bit of jargon known as "old sport"... we discussed the signficiance of that... later on in the film, Tom wonders about it just as much as he wonders where Gatsby's fortune came from. Being such a socialite type personality, he suspected right away that a facade was in place.

First of all, the movie started in a place I never would have imagined in reading it.
Different directors like to put their creative license on their films, but I thought it was kind of a leap at first glance that Nick Carraway was discussing and writing this book while staying at a sanitarium. Supposedly, he's been suffering from insomnia and excessive drunkenness.
After going through the movie and looking back on it, I understand why they chose to go in this direction.

I just kinda wish they hadn't because it makes the sad ending this book has depressing... more depressing than it really needs to be, especially given the times we're living in.
Part of me couldn't help but think about the character Pat Peoples from "Silver Linings Playbook" (via the book, I haven't seen the movie yet) who flipped out over this book because it didn't have a silver lining to it.

"Gatsby" represents a time in our country's history, one of those eras people from all walks of life, writers or non-writers, go back for nostalgia purposes. They approach it with the belief things were so much more exciting back then than they are right now.
The only other glimpse I got of the roaring 20's, aside of Honors Social Studies (same year as Honors English & PreCalculus), was the movie "Midnight in Paris," where Owen Wilson would be transported back to Paris in the 20's and hang out with all of this writers and artists he admired. 

Going from the trailers alone, I thought they were WAY overplaying. The liveliness of New York's nightlife and the parties at Gatsby's mansion, I'm thinking there is no way that they even had this many light bulbs and people back then. It boggled my mind and I worried all the critics would say  they were overreaching with this one.
Then again, this is the same guy who directed "Moulin Rouge," which cornered the market of exaggeration... so that's what you get.

Strangely enough, while being fully aware of this overly manufactured way of film making, I fell victim to it just like everyone else in the picture. The glitz and glamor tantalized the senses and however crazy, you just wanted to be part of the action if only to have a good time.
I have to give major props to the costume designers and the hair & make-up people who worked on this movie. They blew me away to the point I can't even explain myself other than I wanted a piece of the action.

This is part of the reason why I tagged the actress (who only has 2 other movie credits to her name thus far) who played Jordan Baker to the end of my castlist.
Granted, this character plays a significant role in the plot, as the person who introduces the idea of Gatsby to Nick and through her, he learns of the favor Gatsby wants him to do for him. But when she first appeared on screen, I knew exactly who she was (well, duh, I've read the book) and I was excited to see how she'd translate to the picture.

In every scene, she looked immaculate as if her clothes were designed for her and she could pull off chic as well as sporty (Jordan was a golfer).
I'd go so far as to say she's the kind of girl crush where I would steal her look in an instant. All of the girls in the movie (except for Tom's mistress, Myrtle) had the really short Roaring 20's hairstyle and a number of times, I considered the possibility of trying to duplicate it.

Besides the overdone imagery, going in, I was skeptical about Carey Mulligan played Daisy. In the scenes I saw beforehand, she didn't translate to me as the person I read in the book. Something was just off... maybe it was the fact I read her as having longer hair than that. But within a minute or so, I found myself falling in love with her just as much as Gatsby had five years ago. She had a certain magnetism I couldn't put my finger on.
Then as the movie progressed, a lot of that adoration went away... but that wasn't just exclusive to her, but the rest of the picture.

Wealth almost always involved exaggeration in this adaptation. In the first scene with the Buchanans, Nick arrived in the living room to meet with Daisy and all of the curtains floated into the air, cloaking the entire room. Then the help closed all the windows to stop the breeze and they floated back into place. 
Upon rereading the book a year ago, I remembered the scene very well where Nick said it was the 2nd time in his life he got plastered drunk. He was out on the town with Tom who was seeing Myrtle in a hotel room. The camera angles showed everything going out of control, whipping around the room and outside of it looking over at the town. In the scene, there's a line where Tom tells Myrtle that she can't say Daisy's name and when she won't stop, he slaps her.

I just had to ask: Mr. Luhrmann, did you really have to show that slap in slow motion?
Just ridiculous! (Unfortunately, typing this up limits me as to how much I really empahisize that... my voice strains to the point of being rendered useless entirely).


Meanwhile, Gatsby's mansion wasn't just full of people. It was packed like everyone was in line to see a rock concert... literally wall to wall people. The only difference is that I'd mentally accepted how crazy things were in this movie by this point and I surrounded to all the visual delights offered.

Quickly to address the music... I oppose hip-hop in general, but oddly enough, I felt like most of it fit into the parties really well... my only complaint is at the speakeasy where it sounds like
Jay-Z is in the room with us talking over the dialogue... he is definitely not one of my favorite people...

I loved the casting choices for the two men. Tobey Maguire is one of a few individuals who I think are great for narration in general. No matter the situation, he has us believing he has a good eye for noting the human condition and we're entranced by his vision, which I can characterize as naive optimism.
Again going back to the trailers, however much I like Leo, they had me believing he was too accessible, too much a part of this movie to be anywhere close to the book's vision.

When we read it for class, I didn't know until it was pointed out later on that Gatsby was a young man in his early 30's. His eccentricity and of course the size of his estate has one believing he's an elusive million quite a bit older than that. But taking into account how hesitant he is to ask Nick for his help to reunite with Daisy, his age makes a lot more sense. 

Much to my relief, Gatsby remained as elusive as ever. We don't see him for quite a while, but his reputation immediately precedes him. Leo brought a hidden quality to his performance that I deem as flawless and enamoring... and beyond that, it defies description. Let's just say you have to see it to feel it and truly appreciate it, even if words are doomed to fail. 

After the party, the first time Nick spends time with Gatsby is in the craziest car ride I saw that wasn't a chase scene. 
I'm looking at the book and it contains the phrase "and then came that disconcerting ride"... which has me believing he meant the conversation. Once or two, the narration includes the word "sped," but at points, it was a toss-up between being too cheesy and too unrealistic. Gatsby's talking to Nick throughout this, giving him his full attention as if he's not even driving the car. I kept freaking out that they were going to crash into somebody because he clearly wasn't watching the road. 

The scene where Gatsby and Daisy meet, for the first time since parting ways 5 years ago, plays out just as I imagined it would... at least from his perspective. He was a nervous wreck, primed to leave even though she's set to arrive in two minutes. Then when she arrives, he disappears, only to wait at the front door for Nick to let him in.
The man had to make an entrance and going back to the book now, I do see that he's dripping wet, having been out in the rain.

Man, makes me wish I reread the book a week ago rather than a year ago because there were a lot of details I didn't remember. 
The relationship between the two of them played out beautifully, even though we all knew it was doomed to fail. 

Afterwards, the movie took another turn and the overall feel of it changed entirely.
A tension was put on so thick that you could barely cut it with a butter knife.
While Gatsby closed his mansion to all the parties and the press, spending time alone with Daisy, I couldn't help but wonder how they would bring Tom back into the picture.

We're led right away into believing the dude is a scumbag, but the movie really served to exploit that. I wanted to scream that he had no excuse to be upset with Gatsby because he's been cheating on his Daisy for ages. Given Myrtle's unfortunate fate and then some, I get that he loved both women, but seriously... if he loved Daisy as much as he claimed, he wouldn't be cheating on her. 
The worst of it is that he gets away with SO MUCH.

With all the parties gone, the movie just dragged... everything was so tense and depressing and I just wanted the last few significant scenes to be over and done with. 

Myrtle is killed in a hit-and-run, which Tom believes to be at the fault of Gatsby.
Gatsby tells Nick Daisy was driving and not to tell anyone else.
Tom slips to Wilson, Myrtle's husband, that the car belonged to Gatsby... and the obvious conclusion is drawn.

Nick spoke with such love for Gatsby that you're on his side no matter what comes to pass. Of course, as the viewing audience, we see things exactly as they are. Meanwhile, all the other characters are left with the impression that Gatsby was not only responsible for Myrtle's death, but he was the one who had the affair with her.
Yet another time Tom got away with... to that end, I have a million insults I want to throw at him right now, but all the name-calling would get too exhausting.

It's not surprising that nobody showed up for Gatsby's funeral. After all, people just showed up at the parties to have a good time. They were never invited. The only person ever invited to a Gatsby party was Nick.

They went into a lot more detail than they did in the book about Gatsby's business dealings, being in the business of bootlegging, bonds, wall-street and so on. I just didn't remember reading about the press being this rabid for details. 
I mean, they showed up at his home, taking pictures of him in the casket, almost as if they're the original paparazzi.

While it likely wasn't needed in the movie, I was disappointed that Gatsby's father didn't show up at the funeral like he did in the book. All of his backstory was told in flashbacks long before he died, but I couldn't help feeling something was missing there.

I thirsted for at least one more significant scene to the end...
a little something called closer.
Possibly Nick getting to speak to Tom and/or Daisy about what happened.
At the very least, I would have liked one final scene with him and Jordan Baker. I had to go back and read to see what happened with them.

Supposedly the last time they saw each other, she said she was engaged and whatever affections she had for him was a one-time thing... as if he was just the latest novelty...
Taking all of the above into account, it does make some poetic scene that Nick kinda lost his mind over everything. 
The 20's have jaded him with their superficiality. Ironically, Gatsby, who had such prestige surrounding him, was the only anomoly... the only person or thing Nick knew of those times that was grounded in something tangible and genunine.

No matter what he was involved in business-wise, deep down, Gatsby was just a lover and a dreamer who longed to live in the past and the future as if they were obtainable at the same time.

Grade: B
while the acting was great and the visuals were amazing, the execution of the storytelling left some to be desired.

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

Nice review Jackie. As a movie in general, you aren't missing a whole lot.