Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Getting Gatsby

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Not that I’m a big fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, but if anyone could play the young, mysterious playboy who is actually a man of accomplishment and purpose, surely it was DiCaprio?

Then I learned Baz Luhrmann, who infamously directed DiCaprio in an awful adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, was directing the new film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Luhrman also directed Moulin Rouge and Australia.

I’ll wait until The Great Gatsby comes to cable.

The Atlantic’s Christopher Orr has a devastating review of the new film:

DiCaprio could have been terrific if this were a boffo, over-the-top musical entertainment (an adaptation, say, of 42nd Street), or if it were a subdued fable of loss and regret (such as, I don’t know, The Great Gatsby?). But Luhrmann’s impossibly ill-conceived hybrid of the two is beyond the talent of any actor to make sense of.

At least DiCaprio’s is the only genuinely memorable performance wasted by the film. Joel Edgerton is solid (at times a bit too solid) as Tom Buchanan, and Elizabeth Debicki looks the part of Jordan Baker even if she lacks the requisite languor. (Like everyone else in the film, she has the feel of a 33 1/3 rpm record being played at 78.) McGuire is profoundly forgettable as Nick, his existential trauma indiscernible from adolescent ennui. And Carey Mulligan is a minor disaster as Daisy, though it’s hard to lay the blame at the actress’s feet. It is with her character that Luhrmann most clearly displays his incomprehension of the work he’s adapting—or perhaps, more cynically, his assumption that audiences would be unable to comprehend it. This Daisy is indecisive rather than “careless,” a co-victim in the story’s central tragedy rather than its principal architect, a smash-ee rather than smasher. Among other consequences, this transformation renders Fitzgerald’s closing judgment on the Buchanans (which Luhrmann reproduces faithfully) all but meaningless.

The problem is that when the movie is entertaining it’s not “Gatsby”, and when it’s “Gatsby” it’s not entertaining.None of which is to say that The Great Gatsby is a bad movie in the most conventional, will-I-want-my-money-back sense. Luhrmann is, as always, a dazzling ringmaster, and his movie is intermittently quite entertaining. The score (on which he collaborated with executive producer Jay-Z) is imaginative and ecumenical, making evocative use of Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” and a cover of “Back to Black” by Beyoncé and Andre 3000. Many of the gags offered up are rather amusing, from Gatsby’s explosive entrance to an over-enthusiastic flower purchase to a clever segue between Cole Porter’s “Let’s Misbehave” and Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” The problem is that when the movie is entertaining it’s not Gatsby, and when it’s Gatsby it’s not entertaining.

It sounds like Luhrmann could have benefitted from reading Christopher Hitchens’ essay on The Great Gatsby before making the movie.

But then what of care, or caring? It’s the antithesis of the spoiled and the bored and the nihilistic: it shares an impulse with charity and caritas and, well, love. People come uninvited to Gatsby’s mansion, which is as lonely and desperate as Hearst’s castle, and he doesn’t care. He is indifferent. So is Jordan Baker, a rotten and insouciant woman of whom Nick inquires, if only about her terrible driving, “Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself.” And then I’m sure you remember: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

(I sometimes think that the word “car-less” is lurking here in some subliminal, Jungian way, given the role played by the nonsentient, automatic, and then entirely new and exciting status symbol of the fast limo or coupe. What poor, degraded Mr. Wilson wouldn’t give to be buying a car instead of just repairing one.) Anyway, the ultimate and startling point about Gatsby is that he does care, deeply and secretly and inarticulately and naïvely and vulnerably, and he cares for someone who could hardly care less. And he is innocent, in spite of all his worldliness. This is the lineament of tragedy.

By the way, any movie reviewer or blogger that says “spoiler alert” when reviewing the movie, or anyone who complains about having the ending ruined for them, should have their computers taken away from them and be forced to go to a library.

Drink like Gatsby:

Great Gatsby recipe

2 oz vodka
2 oz gin
1 splash sweet vermouth
1 tsp lemon juice

Combine gin and vodka in a martini glass. Splash with sweet vermouth and add fresh lemon juice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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