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The Great Gatsby and His Mediocre Friends: A Movie Review

I was really excited for The Great Gatsby to be made into a movie again. Sorry Robert Redford, but your version was just weird. And did anyone see the A&E version staring a young Paul Rudd? What was up with Daisy’s voice, no man would fall in love with a gerbil which is what I assume she was.

I had been promised Gatsby bazinga for two years. I then promised my then junior class we would go watch the movie for extra credit. Then disaster struck. The movie was postponed a year.

A year passed and again I promised my juniors, and last years juniors, that I would take them for Christmas. Disaster struck again. We had to wait until May of this year for our dreams to be complete.

Needless to say there was much anticipation of this film for me and my 110 Asian students and 5 American students to see this flick.

Then the day finally arrived. Gatsby was really coming to theaters and Leo was going to play the wonderfully tortured man. 80 of my students and I packed a 2:30 showing on a Saturday and totally disrupted all the movie goers who were trying to be on dates. I am actually secretly proud of that fact. Throughout the theater you could hear shouts of “Tom Tom, I am here!” and “Tommy I made it!” I was the coolest person at the Puente Hills Mall that afternoon.

We had a wonderful time at the theater together and had great thoughtful conversation about the film in all my classes. I really liked what I told my students so I decided to share it here with you now.

I should warn you that this post is not for you if you…

—— like JayZ
—— like Tobey McGuire
—— never read the book by Fitzgerald called The Great Gatsby
—— think that I am spoiling the movie for you by telling you it is based on a book by Fitzgerald called The Great Gatsby.
—— only care what your mom thinks about the movie
—— hate Leo
—— hate your high school English teacher
—— cannot read
—— only care about Tiffany’s and Prada’s product placement in the movie

Otherwise sit back, relax, and let the critique begin.

I should start off by being completely honest. I hate the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I hate the characters. I hate the storyline. I hate the parties. I hate the interpretation most people walk away with. I hate the whole lot of them. Just hate it, which I think is why I love it.

As I have read this book with classes the last two years I felt like I am not the only one who hated the book. I have a suspicion that Fitzgerald also hated the book. Because I have tapped into this I feel like I am in an exclusive club where only a couple of us know just how truly terrible the people in Gatsby are.

The problem I have with most people regarding the book is that they overly glorify Gatsby. In no way do I think he is a character in literature that the reader is supposed to emulate, glorify, or idolize. He is a broken, shallow, boyish, criminal man. Fitzgerald does not want readers to be like Gatsby. He writes the book as a warning about placing your hope in the wrong thing and letting it consume you. For Gatsby that was Daisy. The girl who loved money more than people. Eventually that blind love in the wrong thing is what will lead to his end which only inspires the reader not to be like Gatsby, Nick, Daisy, Tom or any one mentioned in the novel. Place your hope in the right things and then beat on, boat against the current.

I believe that Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby is the closest to give the “don’t be like these people” message. The way he does this is by placing the story’s narrator, Nick, in a mental hospital after the events of the summer of Gatsby. His is anxious, depressed, and an alcoholic. Yes, Baz, being like Gatsby and his crew will literally wreck you and send you into a mental hospital. Brilliant interpretation.

I also loved that he gave Nick a reason to tell the story. The problem I have with the book is Nick never tells us why he is telling the story. I like that the movie gave us a reason: It is to help Nick process what happened during that summer, to heal and move on. Stylistically, I loved the way the words would appear on the screen as Nick was writing, I thought it was a beautiful touch.

I think Leo was the first actor in that role to really do Gatsby any justice. He came across as cool at first, rich, handsome and yet evasive and enigmatic. Then he became more human after he said “Old sport” for the first time. Most people had a problem with the way he said it, but the book said that he pronounced it strange and did not quite seem comfortable with the phrase. Well done, Leo. When it was time for Gatsby to meet Daisy, Leo did a great job as the nervous, boy who runs outside to get away from the house right when they were supposed to meet. One of my favorite scenes in the book and the movie. And I like how he was not capable of keeping it all together toward the end of the movie. This Gatsby was flawed and broken and not great.

Now for the less amazing aspects of the film. The music just didn’t do it for me. I know there is a lot of debate about the music and JayZ. I don’t want to add to that static. I will just say I didn’t care for it.

Tobey Mcguire was miscast. Sorry Tobes, but you are too old to play 20 something Nick. I didn’t buy your portrayal for one second. You tried to hard to be an innocent boy from the Midwest who was enchanted and revolted by your new surroundings I just never believed you. Also what was wrong with your voice?

I didn’t hate Tom and Daisy as much as I wanted to. By the end of the book I just want them to die a fiery death. They are terrible people and I hate them. In the movie I was indifferent towards them. I think it is because they were too humanized. By the end it looked like Daisy made her decision based on love. Whereas in the novel she makes it based on money. Which leads me to my last point.

Where was all the commotion about Daisy’s voice? It is the driving point of her characterization and it was nowhere in the movie. She was a woman who had a voice that men fell in love with. And Gatsby later said her voice was “full of money.” That is such a great line because it sums her up so well and makes me hate her more.

Overall I enjoyed the film and would show it to my students after we read the novel because it does show the dark side of the fast and easy style of the Jazz Age.

Overall I enjoyed the film and would show it to my students after we read the novel because it does show the dark side of the fast and easy style of the Jazz Age.

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