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Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby has been a long time coming. Initially planned for a Christmas 2012 release, the flashy adaptation of F. Scott's Fitzgerald's most popular novel got bumped to the summer of 2013. Following a string of glitzy posters, and jazzy trailers, it has finally come to theaters. And the response from critics is decidedly mixed.
The film has an unimpressive 45% score on Rotten Tomatoes as we post this, with some critics calling it "a failure" and others proclaiming it "a grand love story." Here at Cinema Blend, we were divided too. Katey enjoyed the movie enough to give it three stars in her review, and Sean praised in particular Leonardo DiCaprio's turn as the mysterious Mr. Gatsby. Kristy on the other hand openly admits to hating the movie, declaring DiCaprio miscast and determining this Gatsby should be known as "Glitterbomb: The Movie."
Stunned by their deeply contrary opinions, Kristy and Sean entered our Great Debate arena to hash out how they came to such different conclusions over DiCaprio's Gatsby. Be warned, the following discusses many plot points of The Great Gatsby. So, SPOILERS AHEAD, old sport.
Sean: Kristy, I was a little surprised by how varied our opinions were when it comes to The Great Gatsby. Not that we aren't allowed to have differing opinions ... particularly about a project that's ending up being as divisive as Luhrmann's Gatsby adaptation ends up being. But I'm shocked that you don't agree Leonardo DiCaprio is/was perfectly cast as J. Gatsby. To me, he's the main reason why the film works as well as it does.
Kristy: Yeah, he's the main reason I think it doesn't work. I was shocked you liked him. Personally, I thought he was totally miscast and made a fool out of one of my favorite literary figures. I'm curious what worked for you about his performance.
Sean: In short, everything. But I'll try to elaborate. First, I think that you need an actor of DiCaprio's "celebrity" to instantly sell that mystique Gatsby brings to the opening of the story. This is supposed to be one of the most revered, awe-inspiring, mysterious men of the time. No offense to excellent character actors like, say, Sam Rockwell or Paul Giamatti, but they wouldn't fit the bill in a way DiCaprio automatically does just by showing up.
And I feared that's all he was going to do. Show up. But when we arrived at the scene where Gatsby was going to meet Daisy for the first time, I thought DiCaprio did an outstanding job of slowly, gradually and even painfully allowing Gatsby's insecurities to creep forward. The showiness of the visual set up of decorating the cottage was classic. His attempts to pose while waiting for her ... then running and hiding in the rain. All of those decisions were smart in showing us how uncomfortable Gatsby is/was in his own skin, and I thought Leo handled that well.
The scene, also, where Gatsby is draping Daisy with his wealth ... throwing the shirts down on her ... that struck me as very odd in the trailer. But I thought it played VERY well in the feature. Here is a man who lost this woman because he was penniless. Now that she's back in his life, if even for a moment, he's going to convince her to stay by showing her -- in an extravagant and obnoxious manner -- how wealthy he has become. I found it heartbreaking.
Kristy: That's funny because I was bothered by the lack of mystique I think DiCaprio's persona brings to the part. I mean, he was a major dreamboat during his earlier years, and since then we've seen endless shots of him carousing with famous bro buds and glamorous gal pals. He's so familiar to me now. I don't think mystery when I think DiCaprio. But worse yet, I no longer think sexy. And to me, Gatsby should definitely be sexy, or more specifically dashing with a hint of danger. And Leo, well, he has not aged well.
Sean: WHAT? If that's not "aging well," the rest of us are fucked.
Kristy: He's not hot. Not anymore.
Sean: Wow. I mean, OK. That's a matter of personal opinion. But seriously, if Leo's ugly, I'm going to eat a bullet.
Kristy: I'm trying to avoid body snarking, and all that. I'm not saying he's ugly, but he's not as sleek and devastatingly handsome as I think Gatsby should be. Like, imagine Michael Fassbender in the part. Boom. Sex appeal. But this is an admittedly superficial criticism. Pure typecasting issue. I have a much bigger problem with how cartoonishly Gatsby is portrayed, and made to look like a clown. Like that whole over-the-top rom-com sequence you mentioned with the flowers and the posing, and the rain made me want to tear my hair out. I get that he's all about making grand gestures for Daisy, but that sequence made him look pathetic. She says in the film (and in the book) how he always looks so cool. Of course, that can be read on the surface level of how she's referring to the hot summer day, but it's not. It's about how hard it is to ruffle Jay Gatsby. And DiCaprio--and Luhrmann--throw that concept of the character completely out the window! They make him a growling goof.
Sean: OK, I'm starting to see where we disconnect. I think -- and I'm putting motivations in their mouths -- that Luhrmann and DiCaprio want Gatsby to appear pathetic. I don't believe that they are asking us to sympathize with this man. I think that he always is supposed to be viewed as the outsider who will never attain acceptance and fit in with this crowd. Which is why the scene later, in The Plaza, is so significant and delivers such a gut punch. Because it's the moment where Gatsby (in a fantastic turn by DiCaprio) slips up and lets the mirage of his "cool" identity drop in front of Daisy. He loses his temper. And she doesn't forgive it. She immediately discards him. Again, heartbreaking. But it's effective because, in my eyes, I always saw him as a pretender -- not a clown, but a "performer" playing the role of a sophisticate. And I thought it was a great way for DiCaprio to play off of the notions that many (not you, but many) attach to him when they think of Leo and his celebrity. I found it to be a brilliant stroke of casting that worked in the film's favor.
Kristy: Yes, that's definitely our major difference, which makes sense. The book establishes Nick as a not entirely reliable narrator--much of what is essentially secondhand and gossip--so it allows the reader to interpret the characters pretty freely. It's part of why I love the book. But for me, Gatsby is a cool character. I think that's why he thrives as a bootlegger. I think the artificial aspect is his giving a care for wealth. He's collecting all this for her. It's making up for the pearls and big wedding Tom gave her instead of him. The scene in the hotel was just about my breaking point because it felt wildly disconnected with Gatsby as I see him.
Of course, this is why I admire movie adaptations of novels. Because I don't think they should be direct translations, but rather a sort of discussion about the book. Like this is Lurhmann saying, "I read it this way." But if I were in a book club with Luhrmann, I think I'd go all his version of Gatsby and start shouting "Shut up! Shut up!" because our views on the characters are so different.
Sean: And you hate Leo.
Kristy: No! But watching him trying to be a dashing romantic lead here, I felt uncomfortable. I saw Romeo + Juliet four times in theaters. Titanic 3 times in its initial run. I spent a good amount of my girlhood crush on DiCaprio, and I don't regret a moment of it. But I am no longer attracted to him, and I think Luhrmann has overlooked the actual looks of his leading man. He's not one of Hollywood's hottest leading men anymore. And I do think he lacks a sense of mystique and danger. After the screening I attended, I did I ask around--an informal poll of female critics--and none would describe him as hot anymore. For what it's worth. But I'm getting off point.
Sean: It's hard to argue. Either the romance of the performance, the subtleties of his decisions, worked for an audience member (as they did for me), or they don't (as they didn't for you). I suppose we'll see where audiences fall now that the movie has opened.
Kristy: I'll be curious to see. I mean, one thing we're seeing over and over is how almost everyone in America was asked to read this book in high school. So every audience member should have an idea of who they see these characters as going in. Who is Gatsby is the question at the heart of the book. And whether Luhrmann intended it to be the same for the movie or not, it will definitely be a part of the debate over this adaptation.
Do you think Leonardo DiCaprio was miscast as Gatsby?