Can’t repeat the past? …Of course you can!
The majority of you who grew up in America have been exposed to The Great Gatsby at some point in your education, most likely multiple times. Even if you never did your homework, you have absorbed some of the themes and symbols from the book—the eyes on the billboard, the green light, The Valley of Ashes.
As with any movie adaptation of a novel, especially one as celebrated as The Great Gatsby, the movie has a hard time escaping the gravity of the original. You are encouraged to set aside your feelings for the original and take the movie for what it is: an adaptation.
You may know director Baz Luhrmann from his work on Moulin Rouge!, Australia, and Romeo + Juliet. Luhrmann certainly loves to use picturesque sets, scenery, and music in his films, and that trend continues in The Great Gatsby.
The movie is both visually and musically stunning, painting an extravagant picture of the opulence, excess, and riches of the upper class of 1920s New York. The 3D in the movie is very well done, neither making the audience sick nor “throwing” too many things at the screen.
Musically, opinions on the score will vary widely. Executive produced by Shawn ‘Jay Z’ Carter, the movie features many of his and his wife’s, Beyoncé, songs that have been blended with the iconic jazz of the Roaring Twenties.
It sounds nice, but ultimately the musical blend of old and new is distracting. The jazz of the ‘20s on its own would have been explosive, emotional, and loud enough to tell the story of Gatsby.
Nick Carraway, our disillusioned narrator, introduces the audience to the mystery of Jay Gatsby and guides us through his journey from innocent bonds trader to broken mental patient. Played by Tobey Maguire, Carraway’s constant observations about the people that surround him too often tell the audience what to think about the situation, instead of letting them draw their own conclusions.
Maguire wasn’t the best choice to play Carraway. Maguire has two emotions in his acting range, and neither of them makes the audience like or identify with Carraway.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the great Jay Gatsby, offering a refined and ritzy performance. He and Luhrmann worked together previously on Romeo +Juliet (another adaptation of a beloved and celebrated story.) DiCaprio pulls off the confidence and mystery of Gatsby wonderfully, never tipping his hand fully to anyone but his beloved and Carraway.
The true stand-out performance in the film comes from Joel Edgerton’s portrayal of Tom Buchanan. The other side of the coin from Gatsby, Buchanan’s old money and character flaws make him the perfect opposition to Gatsby’s plans. Edgerton delivers a strong and convincing performance of Buchanan.
The plot to The Great Gatsby begins with an electric and snappy pace. However, as Carraway begins to become more and more jaded to the lives lived by his friends, the plot slows to a dreamy and sober crawl. Instead of building up to something, The Great Gatsby spirals downward into anguish.
Should you take the kids to see The Great Gatsby? As always, that is up to the parents to decide. However, here are some of the things you should consider.
Consider the fact that the film is about the decadence of the ultra-rich in 1920’s prohibition New York. Abuse of alcohol and sex are what the people who “have it all” fill their lives with in the film.
There is mild to strong sexual content in the movie. There is no nudity or sex shown on screen, but there are several scenes that will make you feel awkward about seeing the movie with your children. Infidelity is one of the major themes in the film.
There is light violence in the film, but some of it could be too intense for younger viewers. A woman is hit by a car, killing her instantly. Viewers see a close up of her body. In a particularly violent scene, a man loses control and back-hands a woman.
The language in Gatsby’s day was more civil and polished, with only minor profanity in the film.
The Great Gatsby is visually appealing, but its uneven plot and stiff performance by Maguire leaves the film with a score of 3/5 stars.
See you next time, old boy!