Sunday, May 12, 2013

Compare and Contrast

I kept busy this weekend with an old friend, Jay Gatsby. I loooooved The Great Gatsby the first time I read it, in high school. Yes, I was listening when the teacher told us it was about the American belief in money equaling success, and our national penchant for invention. (She may even have used the word, "penchant.") But that wasn't my takeaway. For the first time I understood the phrase, "the end doesn't justify the means." I got it. I realized that it didn't matter why Gatsby was bootlegging and money laundering. Love wasn't a good enough reason. Buried in the lush, beautiful prose was a real life lesson and I got it.

Of the great Jass Age novelists, I enjoy Hemingway's style more than Fitzgerald's. It's clean and spare and credible. But Fitzgerald's masterpiece has a moral core that touches me and teaches me.

To celebrate the release of the latest cinematic incarnation, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as my old friend, I watched the 1974 version. The one I saw in high school, starring my great teenage crush, Robert Redford. At the time, I loved him as Gatsby, but I couldn't stand Mia Farrow as Daisy. I remember thinking of her as "Dismal Daisy." Why was he so obsessed with such a silly girl? Watched today, I still feel the same way about Jay and Daisy. Karen Black as Myrtle is woeful. But I loved the sets and the clothes and the music. And I appreciate Sam Waterston -- so familiar as Jack McCoy on Law & Order -- as Nick. Our Everyman. Our entree into that privileged world.

Then I went to see the new, 3D Baz Luhrman version on the big screen. Oh, how it sucks! The sets are elaborate and annoying. The soundtrack is intrusive and pretentious. I'm sure Leo is a better actor than Redford, but he's less of a star, and when he appears behind the wheel of the yellow convertible or slips into the pink suit, the audience actually snickered at how silly he looked.

Carey Mulligan is Leo's object of desire and I found her to be just as dismal a Daisy. I think maybe that part is unplayable. I found her so sympathetic in the book, a woman as restricted by her money as she would be by poverty. But in both 1974 and 2013, she's just grating.

I wonder why it's so hard to make a good movie based on this wonderful book.


  1. I completely agree with all your assessments. Loved the book and re-read each time my high schoolers did. Never tired of it. I liked the old movie better. The new one is pretentious and distracting. Leo was just ok. I still can't stand any version of Daisy. The only character I remotely liked was McGuire as Nick and I'm not a McGuire fan at all. Stupid to even think it should be 3D! We accidentally saw this version. I'm sticking with Redford!

  2. I have been looking forward to seeing this but have wanted to read the book first. I have been hearing rumbles that this might be Leo's oscar winning effort. Which is frankly over due.

  3. I love the book. I was afraid that this movie would be too Baz Luhrmanized (like how I made that a term?).

    Maybe I'll just wait for the video.