The Great Gatsby: Cheers, Old Sport!

SOME ADVICE for those who have not yet read The Great Gatsby: Don’t continue to read this film review.  Read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic first because the book came before any of the films did.  If you adore the novel as much as you should, then make the choice to watch any version of the film.  This is the way most people would suggest approaching Gatsby.  The novel is almost always more rewarding and insightful than the film anyway.

Thousands of Americans flocked to the nearest movie theater the week of May 1st, hoping to snag a seat in one of the many showings of The Great Gatsby.  Director Bas Luhrmann has revamped the film for 2013.  Perhaps the most legendary actor on the list of cast members is Leonardo DiCaprio.  He won our hearts in Romeo and Juliet and made us swoon (and cry) a second time in Titanic.  Now, he has done it again.  The Great Gatsby has captured the attention of literary fanatics and hopeless romantics alike.  It is timeless, more than your average date-night movie.  Some are even calling it the movie of the summer.  And all this after only a month since its release.

DiCaprio encompasses the style, swagger, language, and attitude of the true gentleman that is Jay Gatsby.  Nick Carraway describes his smile as unflinchingly genuine and one-of-a-kind.  It is one of those grins that comes from a moment of sheer happiness, the kind that you couldn’t hide if you tried.  And oh, how your heart will melt when you see it.  Those who see Gatsby in 3D may be tempted to stretch out their arms and clink glasses with him.  I’m not exaggerating.  He’s thatcharming.

There is more to Gatsby than his smile, though.  There is his nervous boyishness; the way he fidgets with his hair and fixes his handkerchief and rummages around in his pockets.  There is his grace; the way he pushes his jacket aside and reveals his vest when he is feeling especially pensive.  (Although this move is old-fashioned, DiCaprio’s Gatsby makes it look surprisingly sexy.)  There is the way that he showers Daisy in about thirty of his finest shirts made of silks from around the world; the carelessness with which he throws them because all of the material goods don’t mean anything unless Daisy is there to notice them.  Sigh.

DiCaprio shows why Jay Gatsby has been such an influential and intriguing character in the realm of classic literature and filmmaking.  Jay Gatsby is worldly and wise beyond his years, traits that probably come naturally to DiCaprio after having started his acting career at age sixteen.  And while Gatsby truly is a good guy, the kind you root for against all odds, he is also deeply troubled.  He is a hopeless man with a furrowed brow who just happens to be wildly popular in New York’s social scene.  I would dare to say that, in the film, DiCaprio plays a Gatsby who is even more likable, and pitiful, than the Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s novel.

The theatrics are the most exciting parts of the film’s production, however.  After watching the previews for the movie, one would expect Gatsby’s parties to be grand and bold enough to stop an entire city for two nights.  And believe me, they are.  I can’t even imagine the hangovers some of these people must have had on Monday morning.  Gatsby’s parties are showstoppers.  They feature live music by jazz bands with sparkling trumpets and saxophones of brass and gold.  An enthusiastic, albeit eccentric, pianist consistently bangs at the keys of a black grand piano set before the pool, somehow creating beautiful music.  Confetti falls from all angles as if appearing from the starry sky, and, in a cliché yet celebratory moment, the end of the evening is marked by a fireworks display from across the water.

Women splash and swim among handsome men with silky dark hair.  All the guests are dressed for a spectacular ball; men in crisp tuxedos polished off with handkerchiefs and bowties, women wear floor-length gowns laced with the finest of jewels.  The film illustrates what readers could before only imagine: the theatrical displays of art that are Jay Gatsby’s weekend parties.  They are entire productions in and of themselves, lavish enough to stand alone in the film.  Imagine the night of your senior prom and the weekend that followed.  Gatsby parties way harder than that at least twice a week.

For those who have read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, leaving the theater may feel both exhilarating and disheartening.  Gatsby’s story is sad, even depressing.  (It was enough to send Nick Carraway to a therapist!)  It is difficult to forget how the story ends, and even during the happy scenes, things don’t seem so happy.  Even when Gatsby and Daisy are spending time together, laughing, dancing, sharing tea, cuddling in the early morning, the elephant in the room still looms overhead.  It’s a shame that Daisy once loved an arrogant scumbag like Tom—even worse that she decides to stay with him—but instead of trying to fight fate, it is best to accept the fact that the ending of the story will never stop being heart-wrenching.

The 2013 version of The Great Gatsby is more than just a movie.  It is an event, and it is also an excuse to wear a feathery, bedazzled headband across your forehead and white gloves up to your elbows.  I would recommend it to English majors, bookworms, thrill-seekers, romantics, and douche-y high school boys who could use a few lessons in how to treat a woman (from Gatsby, not Tom!)  I look forward to purchasing it when it is released on DVD, and quite honestly, I think future generations will have difficulty remaking a Gatsby as great as this one.  Pun intended.

This post was originally published on Tumblr on June 16, 2013.


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