Review: The Great Gatsby

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As a foreword – I like to read, now, as an adult, but the last time I read The Great Gatsby was 10 years ago, in high school. I read the whole thing, but only paid attention to what I thought I would need to do well on the homework we were assigned for it, and promptly forgot everything as soon as we moved to the next book. I didn’t reread the book in preparation for the movie – to be honest, I kind of saw it on a random whim over the weekend – so this review will not be comparing Baz Luhrmann’s version to the original. This is not a English major’s critique of The Great Gatsby, this is just a review of the two hours I spent watching Luhrmann’s retelling.

There is nothing subtle about Jay-Z rapping over the 1920s. There is nothing subtle about the rousing, unchaperoned parties that Jay Gatsby throws nightly at his house. There is nothing subtle about The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby’s parties are big, dumb fun, with indoor water fountains, unlimited alcohol, and pipe organ DJs. The Great Gatsby is big, dumb fun.

The Great Gatsby is so heavily stylized, at times it feels like a live-action stop-motion movie. The “fun” sections of the movie charge forth at breakneck speed, much like the cars being driven, and even the dramatic moments – for let us not forget, The Great Gatsby certainly qualifies as a tragedy – are so theatrical that they are enjoyable. Even at two hours, almost every scene in the movie justifies its existence. The modern rap-heavy soundtrack works well, replacing the jazz of the twenties with its current descendant. It would be false to say DiCaprio is at the top of his game in this, but he’s such an effortless actor it’s not hard to see him as Gatsby instead of Leo early on. Mulligan, as always, is unfailingly charming, and she easily justifies the obsession Daisy receives.

The Great Gatsby is not a great movie, per se. The framing device of Nick Carraway writing the story while in a mental institution simply doesn’t work. Tobey Maguire cannot act, which is nothing new, but when he’s the main character and surrounded by pros like DiCaprio and Mulligan, it’s embarrassingly obvious. The dialogue and line delivery at points are unforgivable, and there’s a side plot involving Gatsby trying to involve Carraway in his uncouth business plans that is planted but abandoned shortly never to be returned to.

7/10 – The experience watching The Great Gatsby is the same as attending a party at the Gatsby mansion. It’s big, loud, fake, enjoyable, but ultimately temporal. You bask in the grandiose revelry of it all, but after a couple of hours you go home and forget about it. You might think about revisiting it again in the future, but you know that even if you go back, you’ve already seen it all.

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