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The not-so-Great Gatsby


The cast of The Great Gatsby (originally posted to Flickr by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer at  http://flickr.com/photos/58820009@N05/8778382253

The cast of The Great Gatsby (originally posted to Flickr by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer at http://flickr.com/photos/58820009@N05/8778382253)

I saw The Great Gatsby a couple of weeks ago, and since then I’ve been pondering why I didn’t like it. I think I’ve got it figured out now.First of all, for those who don’t know me, I should explain my expectations going in. I am an English teacher and, while I haven’t taught this particular book in years, I was looking forward to seeing a new version of it. I hoped that for colleagues who do still teach it, the film would prove a valuable addition to their teaching.

So I knew the book, and I knew some of the literary background: the setting, the motifs, and so on. I had also seen commercials for the movie on TV as well as the full trailer in the movie theater. It looked like fun.

I was disappointed. Certainly they captured the visuals well: the over-the-top exuberance of the “Roaring Twenties,” complete with flappers en masse. The wardrobe people must have had a ball costuming this film. And the cinematographer had a field day as well.

They also made sure to include some of the most important symbolism of the novel: the grim valley of ashes between West Egg and Manhattan, overlooked by the huge billboard eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg; the general decadence of the “old money” and “new money” upper classes; and so on.

There were two things, though, that bothered me enough to spoil the whole movie for me. One was its lack of authenticity. The costuming, as I’ve mentioned, was wonderful, right down to the cigarette holders. All of the period scenery was accurate, at least in an idealized movie-world kind of way.

So why, oh why, did they do what they did to the music? There was rock music! Even worse, there was rap! There were a few recognizable twenties-era songs, but remixed into rock music! Flappers were jitterbugging to rap music!

This sacrilege, I guess, was at least partly due to the fact that Jay-Z, a rapper, is the executive producer. And I’m sure it makes the film more accessible to younger viewers other than the few who actually enjoy reading the novel in their English class. My daughter, who’s 20 years old, didn’t mind the anachronistic music at all.

The other problem with the film, for me, was the acting. It’s not that Leonardo diCaprio and Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan are bad actors. I have no idea whether they can act (though Tobey Maguire will always be Spiderman to me). Perhaps, on the contrary, they’re particularly good actors, because they managed to play their characters as if they were all caricatures: exaggerations of literary characters, characters who are fully aware that every move they make and everything they say has some larger-than-life significance. It was as if the whole film was some sort of over-the-top dream. They were overacting on purpose.

And that’s not what I wanted. I wanted a straight retelling of the story in the novel. I wanted period costumes and period music.  I wanted historical accuracy in how the characters behaved. I wanted scenery that evoked how Manhattan and Long Island really might have looked in the 1920’s, at least in an idealized movie-world kind of way.

I wanted to be transported back to another era. Instead I was transported into someone else’s skewed dream of how that era should have looked. And I didn’t like it.


What did you think of The Great Gatsby? Post your thoughts below, and please repost if you like this blog!


2 comments on “The not-so-Great Gatsby

  1. Pinky Poinker
    June 23, 2013

    Hi Rachel, What an honest review. I suppose the inclusion of rap music was as you said to make it more accessible to the ‘young ones’. The old adage… the movie is never as good as the book, springs to mind. Most people who go to see this movie would not have read the book. I also know what you mean by being able to ‘see’ actors acting. I decided to pass on this movie as I did not like Moulin Rouge which was directed by the same person.

  2. Rachel Heller
    June 24, 2013

    I didn’t like Moulin Rouge either, but still had hopes for this film… I agree that the movie is never as good as the book, but the best movies can add or accentuate. What springs to mind is Life of Pi, which was visually stunning, and Perfume, which managed to translate descriptions of smells into visuals powerful enough to allow the audience to know the smells anyway.

    All those English teachers out there can be satisfied, though. The kids love this version, so it’ll be usable in the classroom.

    Thanks for commenting!

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This entry was posted on June 20, 2013 by in Film, Reviews and tagged , .
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