I was SO excited for the release of The Great Gatsby. Seriously. I’ve been patiently counting down the days until its release for what feels like a lifetime – first it was due to be released in December and then (nooo!) it was pushed back until May. Cynical friends mused that this was probably due to it being ‘terrible’ but I, ever the optimist, decided that it had been shelved as it was simply so amazing that Warner Bros had decided that the world wasn’t quite ready for this level of greatness. Yeah.
However, I’ve just returned from the cinema having watched it and, well – I feel a little flat. Kind of cheated. As if I’ve eaten a cheap-o ready meal filled with E-numbers and lacking any nutritious substance that turned me hyper for a couple of hours and then left me drained and weary.
Don’t get me wrong – some aspects of the film are great. Director Baz Luhrmann has done a truly wonderful job of bringing the glamour and glitz of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel to life – but equally, the doomed romance and understated beauty of the novel have been lost. Everything sparkles and glitters and twinkles – eyes are distracted, but minds are not. The production almost feels empty – despite a great performance from Leonardo DiCaprio as the enigmatic Jay Gatsby.
The thing about a novel such as The Great Gatsby is that it means so many different things to its readers, that it would be almost impossible to pin-point everything that ought to be covered on film. But the film has made me doubt the novel that I thought I loved (which is ridiculous, I know, and I’m currently half-way through re-reading it).
Whilst Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and Gatsby’s love affair seemed like a doomed romance in print, on screen, it just doesn’t convince. And whilst in the novel narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) tells the story in a memoir-esque style, in Luhrmann’s adaptation he is reliving the events at the request of the psychiatrist he is seeing, which in itself seems like an odd twist on the standard ‘coming of age’ narrative.
Luhrmann matches the almost-gaudy excess of Gatsby and Daisy with the filthy poverty of the ‘normal’ people who live on the other side of town, who are covered in grime and work endlessly. Shots of Daisy, Gatsby and Nick enjoying an impeccable floral afternoon tea are matched with those of Myrtle’s husband, George, who is a oil-slicked ‘every’ man, who runs a garage. The irony of which lies, of course, in the fact that Myrtle (Isla Fisher) is the mistress of no other than Daisy’s husband Tom (Joel Edgerton).
I don’t know. I’m hoping to see it again sometime soon-ish as I really want to like it. I’ll end with a line from Daisy, who is suddenly moved to tears when Gatsby throws armfuls of beautiful shirts at her, and she reflects on how their lives could have been together: “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such – such beautiful shirts before.” I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts on screen, either.
The Great Gatsby is in cinemas now