The Great Gatsby

On the way back to London, I watched The Great Gatsby. I’m pretty sure Baz Luhrman didn’t intend for it to be viewed on a six inch wide LCD display no more than a foot away from my eyes, but you make do with what you can.

The Great Gatsby is a very short book so it’s surprising that it makes such a long film. The pacing of the film is itself quite strange: to me it felt not enough time was spent establishing the friendship between Carraway and Gatsby. Instead, after a few anachronistic parties (excuses for Jay-Z, the musical director, to show off his record collection) we’re swiftly plunged into Carraway performing favours for his friend.

That said, there aren’t too many liberties taken with the source material. Given what a lush Fitzgerald was, it feels a little injudicious that the framing device is that Carraway is a recovering alcoholic writing his own memoirs as therapy. But on the positive side, nobody tries to sneak a happy ending in.

Jordan Baker only makes appearances until the end of the first half, after which she fades away. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby looks rather too young, and I’m sure at the end there’s an inflatable in the swimming pool that the film omits. But those are small criticisms; the real problem is that The Great Gatsby feels like a particularly “zany”, “down with the kids” English teacher, trying to prove that Fitzgerald is cool and relevant.

Fitzgerald is depressing and a master of limpid, minimal prose. There’s no need to dress it up with hip hop that’s a few years old and thus feels geriatric in comparison with the unchanging misery and truths of Gatsby. In the end, the artifice distracted me; this was a film that looked too good, until you suspect there must be some failing buried beneath all the shininess.

Or you shouldn’t watch it on,the seatback monitor of a plane.

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