Not So Great, Then?

Another scattered adaptation with 'Gatsby'

A novel of riches, self-made men and the attempt to grasp a single, pure image of the past, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby has already been filmed three times for the big screen. “His determination to have my company bordered on violence,” says Nick Carraway of Tom Buchanan, and it sums up the shaping of the new Baz Luhrmann version.

Luhrmann’s Gatsby will be deemed a turkey, though it’s actually a turducken—there isn’t room to stuff in any more cinematic motifs. Anachronistic music, intended to link yesteryear’s gangster to today’s, is the smallest problem with this atrocity. The soundtrack rattles you out of the era, but then the era has to be relentlessly explained to the viewer: “I hear he’s related to Kaiser Wilhelm, the evil German king,” overclarifies a flapper.

A wraparound device has Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire with slicked-back hair, looking like Bewitched‘s Dick York) as cracked up as Fitzgerald himself. Nick writes under the direction of a kindly therapist (Jack Thompson), and in a smart movie, this doctor could have offered some counterpoint, some of the second thoughts that make for a deathless novel instead of a Jazz Age fossil.

As Daisy, Carey Mulligan adds to her Manic Pixie Dream Girl repertoire a breakthrough Depressive Pixie Dream Girl. Elizabeth Debicki’s Jordan has so little to do that she mostly stands around like a potted palm.

And then there’s Gatsby himself. Leonardo DiCaprio, too old for the part, is introduced with a cloudburst of fireworks over his King Ludwig/Thomas Kincaid castle while “Rhapsody in Blue” crescendos; add in the zizzing of shooting stars à la Tinkerbell, and it’s obvious that Luhrmann thinks of Gatsby as Walt Disney.

What went right here? The speed of the roadsters, dueling each other on dangerous roads. Someday, you’ll meet a lit student who’ll say, “No, but I saw the movie”—and he’ll probably think that The Great Gatsby‘s moral is that it’s important not to drive like an asshole.

‘The Great Gatsby’ is in wide release.

Sonoma County Library