Why I Disagree With Critics Of The New Gatsby Film
I missed the boat.
I missed the boat filled with people who believe the new Gatsby movie sucked. That ship sailed and I wasn’t on it. I don’t know what’s up with those people.
In this post, I’ll explain why I disagree with most critics on The Great Gatsby movie. The film has been critically panned, receiving 49% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve read several recurring arguments online, and I want to take a look at each of those.
As a reminder, I’ve read the Gatsby novel five times. It’s my favorite book, and if a director did a crappy job of putting Fitzgerald’s story on screen, I would be more than happy to ridicule said director.
In this case, I think Baz Luhrmann did a (mostly) excellent job of making this classic novel into a Hollywood film. But let’s take a look at what some of his critics are saying.
The movie is over-the-top.
To the critics who say this about the film, I have one question: HAVE YOU READ THE BOOK? The first half of the novel is almost entirely dedicated to Jay Gatsby’s over-the-top, lavish lifestyle—the parties, the scantily-clad women, the money, the house, the excess. It’s all over the top.
Jay Gatsby’s lifestyle was OVER THE TOP, even though he was never in the middle of the social frenzy. Baz Luhrmann nailed that angle of the novel. The party scenes were dazzling. The house was magnificent. Everything about these people’s lives, these people who orbited around Gatsby, was over the top.
The special effects were irritating.
I’m inclined to agree with some critical reviews on this one. Some of the effects, like handwritten graphics flowing on to the screen while characters move in the background, seemed like something out of a low-budget Hallmark movie, not a film like this one.
There were a few cheesy, dream sequences. It just seemed like Luhrmann could’ve chose a different, more effective way to present that information. That said, the movie was bright and beautiful. The colors popped. Even small details, like Gatsby’s yellow car, were bright and beautiful. It’s another way the production of the movie reflected the story itself, in my opinion.
The modern music was distracting and inappropriate for a film set in the 1920s.
This has been totally overdone. The way people have talked about the music, you might think half of the movie involves Gatsby and Daisy hanging out backstage at a Jay Z concert. Or you might think Gatsby takes the mic and drops a karaoke version of “99 Problems” during one of the party scenes.
But no. You’ll probably hear five total minutes of “modern” (mostly rap) music in this film as a background.
And, to me, it fits where they’ve placed it. The key question here is: Why must a movie set in the 1920s have a soundtrack and background music that precisely reflects that era? Have we ever heard of anything called a “modern spin?” Open up your minds a little, people. Eventually, Victorian furniture falls apart–that’s why we have IKEA.
Leonardo DiCaprio was great, but everyone else was forgettable.
Dicaprio was brilliant as Gatsby. I don’t know if you could find another living actor that could pull off that role like he did. He acts with equal portions of charisma and crazy, and that’s what you need to portray Gatsby.
To me, the next biggest role in this film wasn’t Daisy—it was Tom. And Joel Edgerton absolutely NAILED this part. He was exactly how I imagined Tom during all the times I’ve read The Great Gatsby. Seriously, he had to match DiCaprio on that role, and he did. He portrayed Tom’s brutish, racist, womanizing role down to a T. The scene in the Plaza Hotel was one of the best movie scenes I’ve witnessed in years.
I thought Carey Mulligan was a solid Daisy, much better than the actress (and, honestly, more attractive) who played her in the 1970s movie. Much has been said of Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway—mostly negative. But I think it worked. Nick is a forgettable, everyman character. He’s just a guy who’s there. That’s Tobey Maguire, right?
I saw one reviewer criticize Maguire because he was just a “prop” in this movie. Again, READ THE BOOK! Nick is a prop for Gatsby. Almost all of the people in this novel, excluding Tom, are Gatsby’s pawns. If Macguire seemed like a forgettable prop in the movie, then maybe that’s because he did an excellent job of portraying Nick Carraway.
The framing device (Nick in an asylum) was weird.
I’ll agree with this critique. Not only was it weird, but it was too much a part of the movie and it set up all the hokey, special effects flashbacks and handwriting motion graphics that I criticized above.
I understand why Luhrmann used this framing device, but I think there could have been other ways to incorporate it without making it such a recurring part of the film.
The film glamorizes Gatsby’s lavish lifestyle and misses the point of Fitzgerald’s novel.
Again, I feel like I’m in an alternate universe. Did we watch the same movie? Yes, Luhrmann glamorized Gatsby’s lifestyle. That’s because Gatsby’s lifestyle was glamorous. Fitzgerald did the same thing. The first half of the novel is centered on Gatsby’s over-the-topness.
But, then, about halfway through the movie—and at a similar point in the novel—the story takes a dark turn. The parties stop. Gatsby’s obsessive pursuit of Daisy reaches new heights.
In the end, you’re left with Gatsby’s dead body in a pool. The “careless” Daisy and Tom running off together, and Nick left picking up the pieces in the rain at a funeral where no one shows up. It’s a sad, pathetic ending and a reminder of how empty you can feel even when you’ve reached the “American Dream.”
It’s a reminder of just how fickle that American Dream is, and how fragile love can be. All of that was there in the film, just as it was in the novel. Did the critics just miss the last hour and a half? This is a depressing story. It glamorizes nothing.
Honestly, I think a lot of critics just don’t like Baz Luhrmann and were already predisposed to dislike this movie before it came out.
The content is there. The story is there. All the meat of Fitzgerald’s brilliant novel is right there in the 2 hours and 20 minutes that The Great Gatsby is on screen. Was some of his technique distracting? Sure. Was the movie perfect? Absolutely not.
But I think a lot of critics missed the forest because of the trees on this one. If anything, this movie is worth seeing for the acting alone. DiCaprio and Edgerton are THAT good.
So, again, I missed the boat here. I loved the film and totally plan on seeing it again in the theatre.
I’ll give The Great Gatsby 4 out of 5 martini glasses.