Movie Review: The Great Gatsby

Rating: 4 out of 5

Well, well, old sport! I'm glad to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the latest rendition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary masterpiece which most of us know and love.However, I can understand why critics are especially negative with this film.

With Baz Luhrmann as director and screenwriter and Jay Z as executive producer, we all knew that this could have been an extravagant hot mess. Of course, most still think it is, but I'm of the opinion that it could have been so much worse.

I mean, who could deny how absolutely gorgeous the costumes, cars, and sets were! I'll deal with Gatsby's irritating repetition of his catchphrase "old sport," because all the shimmer and sparkle made me want to throw on a flapper dress and learn the foxtrot!

Given all the pomp and circumstance, I wasn't expecting such a character-driven film. I felt that the casting was excellent, and I'm not just talking about Leonardo "He STILL doesn't have an Oscar?!" DiCaprio.

Carey Mulligan was an exquisite Daisy, torn between her love for Gatsby and her obligations as a respectable married woman. Joel Edgerton nailed it as her racist, possessive husband Tom Buchanan. Even Tobey Maguire made a decent Nick Carraway, but that's mostly because both he and Nick have people constantly wondering, "How did this square get into the cool kids' club?"

Sure, this movie was over-the-top and melodramatic. Might I add that the 1974 version was too, just without all the fireworks and confetti. And don't forget that Fitzgerald's characters were written to be affected and biased! Everyone's playing a role in this grand vision inside their own heads--which is why it's so tragic when everything falls apart.

Cinematically, this film suffers from its emphasis on gratuitous 3D scenes. I could do without the frequent shots of the two mansions across the bay or the tacky depiction of Myrtle's unfortunate end. But after watching "Romeo + Juliet" and "Moulin Rouge!," it's not like Luhrmann's flamboyant style was at all shocking.

What I wasn't expecting was how clever this adaptation was, tipping its hat to the one before it. I caught two references to the 1974 predecessor, one where a party guest repeats Mia Farrow's famous line, but this time to Nick instead of Gatsby.

The hissy fit in which Farrow throws clothes at Robert Redford was also altered to Dicaprio delightedly tossing the clothes to Mulligan to display his newfound wealth.

Even the soundtrack was more subtle than I thought it would be. I smirked when I heard "Crazy in Love" during Gatsby's tea party-induced anxiety, but the songs work in a weird way. And if Kanye West, Lana del Rey, and Gotye make The Great Gatsby more relevant for the Millennial generation, so be it.

So on a scale from "The Golden Compass" to "Fight Club" in terms of how good this adaptation was translating book to film, I'd give "The Great Gatsby" an above average. Perhaps along the same lines as "The Hunger Games."

I think that The Telegraph's review put it best when finding the perfect piece of dialogue to sum up the sentiment of this remake:

“Do you think it’s too much?” frets Gatsby, after burying Nick’s living room in flowers in advance of his fateful afternoon tea with Daisy. “I think it’s what you want,” shrugs Nick. Then Gatsby, with a thoughtful look and no apology: “I think so, too.”

Tender is the Night: Book Three

Rating: 2 out of 5

Ugh, finally done with Tender is the Night. It's sad because I love F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby so much, and although I haven't read his other novels, I feel disillusioned. I've talked to people who have read This Side of Paradise or The Beautiful and the Damned, and everyone seems to agree that Gatsby is simply the best. So let's just wrap up this dud, shall we?

Dick Diver's reputation has been completely destroyed in Book Three, due to his alcoholism [See my reviews of Book One and Two]. He is called as a psychologist to cure a young man's homosexuality (yes, the 1930s were not well known for tolerance, unfortunately), but he declares the case a lost cause.

He later finds out that his wife Nicole's father--the one who raped her as a child--is now dying. He tries to prevent Nicole from seeing him for her own sanity, but by the time they arrive, the man has run away. The reader never finds out what happened to him, but sadly if you've gotten this far into the novel, you just want it to end--closure or no closure.

Dick gets kicked out of the clinic after a father of an recovering alcoholic patient complains that his son can smell the liquor off Dick. Dick continues to be an obnoxious drunk, and when Rosemary pays a visit again, it's the final straw for Nicole. She writes to Tommy Barban, who has been obviously in love with her for years, and they begin their affair.

Tommy eventually tells Dick that Nicole loves him now, and they all agree to end the marriage. Nicole takes the children and marries Tommy, and Dick returns to America to practice medicine. The novel ends with Nicole hearing through the grapevine that Dick jumps from town to town, girl to girl, never seeming to escape his problems and find happiness.

This is a story of great irony, given that Nicole becomes healthy at Dick's expense. The fact that the tale ends with Nicole's point of view further proves how Dick has devolved from a charismatic, successful doctor into a troubled, miserable man who disappears as a mere rumor. Nicole, once the psychotic patient, has become the center of the story.

Like I've said before, Fitzgerald is known for writing what he knows, since he suffered from alcoholism and own wife Zelda had to be sent to mental institutions. Reading this novel just makes me pity the author, not admire him. Nothing can beat  the power of The Great Gatsby, so I do not recommend this lesser work.

Favorite Quote of Book Three: "Either you think--or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you."

Tender is the Night: Book One

I'm half-way done with F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night, and although it does not possess the power of The Great Gatsby, it's at least intriguing and gets more so with time. Published in 1933, this novel was given mixed reviews; many critics disapproved of its decadence since most people were struggling during the Great Depresssion.

Indeed, when the book opens, you know you're dealing with the upper class. Set in 1925 in the south of France, 17-year-old upcoming American actress Rosemary Hoyt meets Dick and Nicole Diver, the quintessential "perfect" couple. Dick's a psychologist in his 30s, and Rosemary falls in love with him immediately.

The Divers invite Rosemary to a party, where she confesses her feelings for him while he ignores her. Later, a woman named Violet McKisco stumbles upon Dick and Nicole in their bathroom, and she hints at something's she seen when talking to the other guests, but she's told to mind her own business.

Although Dick loves his wife--even planning an afternoon rendezvous with her in one scene--he still kisses and flirts with Rosemary. He doesn't sleep with her due to her innocence, but Rosemary is determined to get her way regardless of the consequences.

During this whole love story, an alcoholic friends of theirs named Abe North is stirring up trouble. At one point he's robbed and accuses a black man of the crime, starting a race riot. At the hotel where Rosemary's staying, Abe is followed by Jules Peterson, a black shoemaker who testified for Abe. Dick and Rosemary shoo them off to have a romantic moment, but afterward Rosemary finds Jules shot dead in her room--killed by a man who was angered by his testimony.

Dick convinces the hotel manager to remove the body without questions so as to save Rosemary's acting career, and when Nicole is heard screaming from the other room, Rosemary finally realizes what Violet McKisco saw at the party: Nicole's mental instability.

If you know anything about Fitzgerald, you know that this novel is semi-autobiographical, since his own wife Zelda also suffered from mental instability during their marriage, remaining in institutions until she died. In fact, Fitzgerald has been critiqued by other expat writers like Hemingway for creating characters too similar to real people.

If that's the case, I feel sorry for those real people, because most of the time they're completely selfish. Rosemary doesn't care about Nicole when she's with Dick, instead compartmentalizing affair from marriage. None of the characters care about Jules, with Dick saying "It's only some nigger scrap" while getting rid of his dead body. Blatant racism may be able to be chocked up the time period, but an overall disregard for human life or relationships is equally disturbing.

However, Fitzgerald is an exquisite writer, filling each scene with tons of foreshadowing and symbolism. He juxtaposes American and European, white and black, rich and poor,  as well as the image of "perfect" on the outside while crumbling underneath.

Sometimes you don't even recognize the meaning of certain elements, such as the title of Rosemary's debut film "Daddy's Girl," until more info is revealed (It alludes to Rosemary's relationship with Dick, but also Nicole's with her own father--which will be discussed in Book Two).

I'll save my rating until I've reviewed the whole novel, but right now I'd say the story's above average but with definite room for improvement. I'm sure Fitzgerald himself wondered how he'd top The Great Gatsby, so even though he failed to surpass it in my opinion, I'm glad that I have the opportunity to read more of his profound work.

Favorite Quote of Book One: "If you're in love it ought to make you happy."