Saturday, May 26, 2012


"Life ain't nothing but bitches and money." 
- The Great Gatsby
(okay, not really)

My all-time favorite book is F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.  I'm admittedly not a big reader, but I read Gatsby cover to cover.  It's one of the few books that I revisit... yearly.  From the first time I read it, I just understood and could empathize with the character so much... probably too much... as sad as that sounds.  I get Gatsby.  I get his boldness and weakness.  I get his optimism and his persistence.  I get how pathetic he is.  I get his motivations and his flawed romantic idealism.  I get his melodrama and naivete.  I get it so much that I got the nickname "The Great Jaxby" in high school.

For those of you that don't know the story... Read it.  Or at least wikipedia it.  There's too much for me to craft a summary.  (Thoughts on the cast and why Jack hates Baz Luhrmann after the break).

The movies based on this work have been not the best.  Though okay, I never thought they did the source material justice.  The1974 film with Robert Redford in the title role was decent but sadly unremarkable.  Sam Waterston was cast as Nick Carraway (meh), Bruce Dern (good) as Tom Buchanan, and Mia Farrow was Daisy Buchanan (yikes).   Robert Redford was perfectly cast looks-wise, but...
the film lacked passion and direction... In 2000, they did a made-for-tv version starring Mira Sorvino, Paul Rudd and some other guy as Gatsby, but no one remembers that one... because it was terrible.

Which brings us to 2012... When I heard about the cast, I was somewhat excited.  DiCaprio is gonna be fine, but he woulda been my second choice for Gatsby.  He woulda been my first choice 10 years ago.  Dude looks weathered these days.  (First choice?  Ryan Gosling.  He has the boyish, Aryan, Robert Redfordy look, and he is able to play the quiet cool.)  Though DiCaprio is unquestionably a phenomenal actor, Jay Gatsby doesn't require the best actor.  Gatsby is not a complex character.  He's a dog chasing a bone... He has one motivation that he isn't conflicted about.  The weight of complexities fall onto the role of Daisy Buchanan... (See, and Gosling would have gotten to reunite with Carey Mulligan!)  Daisy is supposed to be flighty and careless.  She should be outgoing and not very deep.  Yet, at the end she's the one that's the most conflicted.  It sure doesn't hurt that Mulligan is frickin' adorable.  (With Mia Farrow's Daisy, you really did think, "Really?  Her?")  Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway.  Tobey's just gotta be an unobtrusive narrator.  He did that in Spider-Man.  He should be fine.  After watching the amazing Warrior, I think Joel Edgerton can pull off imposing, and I like him as Tom Buchanan.  This is the good.  This is a good cast.

When I heard that Baz Luhrmann was directing, I'm pretty sure my initial thought was, "Well, the parties will look great."  But the parties are not the point of the story.  When I heard that he was doing it in 3D, I'm pretty sure I said, "Oh fuck you, Baz Luhrmann."  I really don't like Baz Luhrmann as a director.  Don't get me wrong, his films look fantastic... It seems like he cares as much about the look of the film as Michael Bay cares about what he can blow up... I'd even say that the musical selection is up there with Tarantino.  That R&J soundtrack still stands the test in time.  Gatsby is even in his wheelhouse... if his wheelhouse looked amazing but was actually paper thin.  Gatsby's a story about star-crossed lovers, and some of the major set pieces are big ass parties.  He's done that twice.  And twice, it's annoyed the fuck out of me.  What bugs me is that it's all style over substance, and that's hidden by over-the-top, distracting, ridiculous performances... further hidden by quick cuts and closeups.  For example...

I'm sure that it can be argued that this appeals to the ADHD crowd who don't understand Shakespearean stuff... but come the fuck on.  This is set in modern times?  Does anyone you know talk or act like this?  Does anyone start and stop yelling like that?  Even cartoons aren't this loud and obnoxious. It's all very cleaver... but hollow.

In Moulin Rouge, it was more acceptable because it was pretty much a fantasy world... but still, why is everyone fucking yelling all the time?
The Great Gatsby is drama.  Drama.  Baz Luhrmann is camp.  The Great Gatsby is repression and pent-up feelings that are bursting to come out.  Secrets.  Nuance.  Luhrmann doesn't seem able to do nuance.  Gatsby meant something to me because I could relate to him and his situation.  Characters in Luhrmann's films aren't relatable.  They're fantastic (not in the good way), and they look great... but they aren't people.

And seriously?  3D?  There is a time and place for 3D.  A love triangle sans explosions is not one of them.  Again, the parties are gonna be fantastic.  FANTASTIC.  You will feel like you're actually there.  But that is not the story.  The heart and soul of this story isn't the setting.

So, the first Gatsby trailer came out this week.  For thoughts on that (and possibly an apology for being a dick to Baz Luhrmann), check out Part 2.

Jack is the co-contributer and co-creator of motorcycle sidecar drama.  In Jack's free time, Jack likes to sit on his inflatable raft and wait for his phone to ring... but it never does.  

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