For many of us, The Great Gatsby was required reading in high school. Since I was partial to stories of unrequited or unfulfilled love, F. Scott Fitzgerald's story was right up my alley. I also found the period of "The Roaring '20s" fascinating. But most of all, I loved Fitzgerald's sparse, sensible writing style that conveyed all you needed to know about his characters frankly and simply. It made a film adaptation seem like a forgone conclusion because of how well-crafted the characterizations were. So I made sure I saw the 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow the next time it aired on TV (I know I'm dating myself, but VCRs had just come out).
I am one of the rare few who is very fond of the 1974 film. I thought it captured the spirit of the novel well. Sure it had its sore spots, but I enjoyed how the loneliness and desperation of everyone played out on the screen. Redford was suitably enigmatic, Farrow teasingly tormented and flighty. Sam Waterston was nobly conscientious, and Lois Chiles effortlessly careless - which is a pervading theme of the book, the carelessness of the wealthy. In this pre-review of Baz Lurhmann's take on Fitzgerald's masterpiece, I elaborate on two things that concern me about Lurhmann's remake -- two things that are the concern with nearly any film adaptation of a beloved book: Will it live up to the book, and is the cast right for the parts? I look forward to seeing the film when it premieres to learn whether my concerns are warranted.
1. Will it live up to the book?
It all seems like it should work on a Baz Lurhmann level. The decadence of the 1920s, particularly Gatsby's grand parties, is ripe for Lurhmann's visual decadence. I loved the modern take he brought to Shakespeare's "Romeo + Juliet" - creating a kind of extravaganza of costume and charisma for his vision. But is it all too much in the case of Gatsby? I feel like these characters need to be a bit more grounded in reality and not be depicted as caricatures of the elitist snobs they are. Lurhmann is clearly planning to take them over the top, and I'm willing to go there with him, but I'm trepidatious.
I was pleased to hear that Leonardo DiCaprio appreciates the difficulty of bringing a book like The Great Gatsby to the screen. In an interview with "E! News," he spoke about his reluctance to take the part because he knew there would be a lot of expectations placed on the film that would be hard to live up to. I'm glad he chose to tackle it, but was he the right choice?
2. Is the casting right?
- Leo as Gatsby: Like so many actors before him (Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, etc.), Leonardo DiCaprio has become bigger than any part he could play. He is a fine actor, but he's a larger-than-life star. The closest he's come in recent years to getting out of the shadow of himself in his roles is in Martin Scorsese's "The Departed." He could be wonderful as Gatsby, but what I'm not picking up from the trailers is Gatsby's loneliness. It is palpable in the book and very present in the 1974 film. Redford keeps it understated and genuine -- even when his character is being evasive and underhanded. DiCaprio, as talented as he is, does not seem to have a talent for subtlety, and subtlety is what's called for with Gatsby. I'm anxious to see how DiCaprio works the angles on this one.
- Carey as Daisy: I loved Carey Mulligan in "Shame," where she had a fragility akin to a woman like Daisy Buchanan. But there's a lot more than fragility at work in Daisy. In fact, Daisy's fragility is more a facade than anything else. Mulligan's appearance is spot on, but can she capture Daisy's sense of entitlement along with her regret? Keep in mind that Daisy's regret is not so much for her lost love as it is for her weak will. She regrets not being strong enough, big enough, good enough to love freely without the crutch of her wealthy lifestyle.
- Tobey as Nick: At first glance, Tobey Maguire seems like the perfect choice to play the outside-looking-in Nick Carraway. Maguire did something vaguely similar in Ang Lee's "The Ice Storm." And you could certainly argue that even his most famous portrayal -- Spiderman/Peter Parker -- was the personification of an outsider trying to maneuver in a world that didn't seem quite cut out for him. Still, something seems amiss in the clips I've seen, and I won't know the answer until I've seen it. This is the role/actor matchup I'm most curious about.