THE GREAT GATSBY, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire

By ten minutes into this movie, I wanted to leave. By fifteen minutes in, I was gripping the arm rests to keep myself from rushing out. I felt like I’ve occasionally (okay, often) felt in church when the speaker says, “My second point is…” and starts rambling on a barely-even-tangentially-related (if alliterated) rabbit trail, and you know you are in for a long, boring haul because there are always three points.

I stayed for Leo. I love Leo. I have always loved Leo. I loved him as Jack Dawson in the goofy Titanic. I loved him as Romeo. I loved him in Gangs of New York, Catch Me if You can, The Aviator, Blood Diamond, The Departed, Revolutionary Road. I loved him in Inception, in J. Edgar, and in Django. (I’ve been too much of a scaredy-cat to watch Shutter Island.) If it were up to me, he’d have a shelf full of Oscars.

I didn’t love him in this. I didn’t like him in this. I don’t think it’s his fault. I think Baz Luhrmann had a very particular thing he wanted to do, and that is what happened. That is what directors are for: to put their vision on the screen.

I didn’t like the vision.

What we see on screen is all sap and fluff. There are pretty costumes, but the people are not really all that pretty. Giant houses without charm, parties that I’m sure lots of people would enjoy, but which look like too much humanity crushed into too little space with too-loud music—basically an outer circle of Hell to this introvert. If I were at a party like that, I would have sudden and urgent needs to gasp for air outside, far away, somewhere near an all-night Starbucks.

I never read the book. Now I’m not going to. The story didn’t resonate with me, and it’s not just the 1920s thing. Lots of movies in historical settings are brilliant–there are universal themes: longing, hope. This movie is about a creepy, lying fraud who stalks a married woman. Which I might even go for (cinematically) if he were confident and happy and refined (think Vronsky), but he’s pathetic and creepy. “I built this house for you” may have played well in former centuries, but today, a woman would turn on her stilettos and run for her life. Nothing says “This guy will read all your emails and check how many miles you drove today” like “I built this house for you, never mind you are married to someone else, but looky my pool!”

I kind of wish Luhrmann had done the Romeo thing again and set the story in San Francisco in 2013. That might have resonated with me more. Gatsby could have secretly been a drug lord and could be suffering from PTSD from his time in Afghanistan, where he met the poppy men who supply him. Daisy could have been married to a Silicon Valley nerd-gone-billionaire with a penchant for mail-order Asian women, while Daisy’s heart truly beat for Gatsby whom she thinks is so rich because his real name is Armie Hammer.

Tobey Maguire should not have been in the movie. The whole schtick that he’s a wannabe writer who works on Wall Street, but really wants to write a book, and how he copes with his loss of Gatsby (who is shot—not a spoiler, this book was written, people, in 1925) is to write it up and then voila, looky, I have a whole book and I think I’ll call it, ta-da, The Great Gatsby. I hate that kind of book-ending. I hated it in The Wizard of Oz and I hate it here, but here it’s worse, because we have that annoying thing where we bounce in and out of Nick Carraway (wannabe writer, Daisy’s cousin/Gatsby’s neighbor) having therapy at a Sanitarium (should have been Betty Ford where he was addicted to anti-depressants and alcohol because of his experiences living next to a psychopathic stalker) where an old man and an old woman keep bringing him tea and blankies to help him through (try that, Lilo!).

(Parenthetically, I don’t like Tobey Maguire in anything, but I really don’t like him in this movie. He plays a man who stands around watching other people fall in love and he talks too much and says dumb things and then decrees that a lying creepy man who isn’t sensitive to anything is Great. And he has that squeaky-soft voice that crawls up my spine.)

I see on Wikipedia that Nick Carraway is the main character in the book, but please, people, when writers write books about writers writing books, especially when it’s a struggling writer struggling to write as he struggles through his inability to cope with life, then I’m seriously not on board. If you want to see a movie about writers struggling, and then succeeding, at writing, see the undying classic Throw Momma From The Train.

Speaking of annoying, if I hear the term “Old Sport” one more time, I’m going to break something. I think this term comes out of Leo’s mouth about 100 times, and there’s really no reason for it other than to irritate and enrage the audience who gets it already.

So Gatsby is this multizillionaire who’s in love with a woman he feels married to because he kissed her five years ago, which gives me nightmares from college days about boys who were sure beyond doubt that you were “God’s will for them” and that it was probably best if you began submitting today, and you can type my paper for me, can’t you? Daisy is the woman, and she’s married to a man who is having an affair with a woman he would never have looked at.

Gatsby–besotted beyond reason–although rich and famous, and able to throw enormous parties in a single bound, doesn’t have the nerve to invite the girl over. Glory be, the random caretaker’s cottage is rented (why would it be rented out?) to someone who must drive 20 miles to Wall Street to sell bonds every day, but who doesn’t have a car, so calls for a taxi every day, what?

Going on, the cottage is rented to a man who turns out to be none other than Daisy’s cousin, so wowee wow wow, now Daisy can be invited to tea, because although she can’t be invited to Gatsby’s for tea, she can be invited to her own cousin’s house for tea and then they can all walk 25 yards to the Big House where they can disintegrate into a pile of lust, Carraway disappearing at appropriate times, because he has no role except to watch people and then write about them later while he copes with having watched them.

Perhaps the best thing about the movie is that it is a public service announcement for relaxed divorce rules. Here, we have a couple, unhappily and unfaithfully married at a time when there was no such thing as community property laws and where Daisy, had she divorced her husband for Gatsby, would probably have received the short end of the deal, both financially and socially, though I’m not at all sure it would have mattered, Gatsby being as ridiculously wealthy as he appears to be, even though the story of how he got there is a lie. It was a time when appearances were more important in marriage than realities, and the fact that the marriage is intact at the end of the show doesn’t mean the people are any happier than they were or any more likely to be faithful to each other.

Actually, since we know what is going to happen in late October, 1929, all the money is probably moot. Somebody write the sequel. Make it one of those parodies: The Great Gatsby Marries Daisy and They Have Zombie Babies. As long as it’s set in San Francisco and has drug lords and lurking ninjas, I’m in.

When it was over, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, stayed all the way through the credits (waiting for the Song That Never Came), and then smiled: “Next Friday, Star Trek.”

Jay Leno provided automobiles from his collection.

That amazing song from the preview is not in the movie.

Jay Z is one of the producers, so props to him and Mrs. Carter. They both have singing/rapping credits. Lots of people don’t like the rapping, but I’m not a hater there. It was the peppiest part of the show.

One thought on “THE GREAT GATSBY, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire”

  1. Seriously? You’re not going to read the book because Luhrmann (as well as everyone else that has tried) could not make a good movie out of the book? This story did not attain its greatness because of a creepy Tobey Maguire main character. But even with the oddities of the characters, the point is to understand these people as people that make up the world. We don’t read books merely to see our fantasies come to life and happily-ever-after conclusions. We read to understand human nature–to learn, to grow, to overcome. Read the book! (And try not to think about the movie when you do.)

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