Even though I studied history in college, I know very little about America in the 1920s (they weren’t at war with anyone – yawn) so I never had any desire to read The Great Gatsby. As far as I was concerned, I got enough from the 10 Classics in 10 Minutes version to make reading the book unnecessary. The trailer for the movie version didn’t really dissuade me from this view.
A group of frivolous young people in the 20s revolve around a mysterious rich man who throws extravagant parties, drinks too much, and spends money like water.
But now that I’ve seen The Great Gatsby I realize that there’s (slightly) more to it than “Let’s have a drink!” (the most oft-repeated phrase in the one minute audio version). Even though the rest of the characters are exactly as fake as they seem, the frivolous spender is only the surface layer of Jay Gatsby, which made him sympathetic enough for me care about.
Unfortunately, the first third of the movie is all surface flash. Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a guileless bumpkin who has just moved to Long Island to work on Wall Street and be nearer to his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), her husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) and their friend Jordan (Elizabeth Debnicki). His neighbor, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a mysterious figure who throws wild Baz Luhrman style parties in completely pointless 3D.
Ooooh, confetti. That was totally worth three extra dollars.
It seems that no one at the parties has ever met Jay. He exists as a series of ridiculous and implausible rumors passed among the party-goers, none of whom seem to have been invited, except for Nick. Mysterious! Until one second later, when Jay introduces himself to Nick. Mystery solved. For no reason that Nick can figure out, Jay wants to be his friend. Mysterious! Until one second later, when Jay reveals that he wants Nick to get Daisy to hang out at his cottage more so Jay can ‘just happen’ to bump into her. Mystery solved.
So, like, you have math class with Daisy, right?
Can you pass her a note and ask her if she likes me?
You see, in addition to drinking too much and treating their servants like furniture, everyone in the 20s was having an affair except Nick, who’s less of a real character and more of the looking glass that the audience is supposed to peer through to get a glimpse of rich people from the 20s in their natural habitat. Nick narrates most of the story in voice-over, so the experience is rather more like listening to an audio book than I typically like from a movie.
I feel like Nick should be wearing safari clothes and watching the party from a bush.
Tom is having an affair with Myrtle (Isla Fisher) a painted lady type who lives at the gas station he stops at on the way into New York City. For some reason Myrtle and her husband live on an ash heap near a billboard with a pair of eyes that looms over their neighborhood, which I’m sure is supposed to be symbolic of something given how much screen time Baz Luhrmann gives it, I’m just not sure what. Possibly the fact that every time they think they’re having a private conversation there’s actually about 20 servants hanging around?
TOM: You’re sleeping with that a**hole?!
DAISY: Only sometimes.
WAITER: Hang on! Let me jot this down for my gossip column.
Anyway I didn’t like Jay much in the beginning. He sounded rather too much like one of my mom’s old boyfriends – always bragging about going to Harvard and sailing and being rich and having every war medal known to humanity, seemingly unaware of how ridiculous and implausible it all sounded.
Have a drink, old sport! It’ll sound much better with alcohol.
But once Jay reveals that his mansion and his entire frivolous party-throwing lifestyle is all just a pathetic attempt to catch Daisy’s attention, I started to feel sorry for the poor bugger, especially since Daisy really is as flighty and frivolous as she seems. She’s got all the depth of character of teaspoon full of shrooms, which I’m convinced is what’s really in those martinis they keep guzzling.
Sometimes, I put oranges in a circle, and think of my thoughts, and have another drink.
Jay spends all his free time staring at the light at the end of Daisy’s dock like a lovelorn puppy, and once he gets together with Daisy you can’t help but feel happy for them, especially since her husband Tom is such a cheating douche. They’re cute together and she makes Jay happy.
It’s better than Titanic, because you don’t have to feel guilty for perving on twelve-year-old Leo.
Unfortunately Jay is too ambitious to be happy for long. His life slowly unravels as he tries to make sure he has everything – both the money and the mysterious reputation AND Daisy. And since Nick is narrating Jay’s story from a sanatorium, you can probably imagine how it all turned out. And I was sad about it. The movie made me care about this guy when I swore I wouldn’t, so I guess that makes it a success. If you think you can care too, you might want to see it. Just don’t bother with the 3D. It’s a waste of money.