06/17/2013 11:27 am ET Updated Aug 14, 2013

The Great Failure, The Great Gatsby: The Movie

As a self-proclaimed English-nerd, I am unable to let the new film adaptation of The Great Gatsby go un-reviewed. I go to approximately five movies every year, and I generally reserve these excursions for the titles that I have been anticipating for a long time (i.e., Anchorman 2), or movies based on novels such as The Lord of the Rings, or, in this case, Gatsby.

My initial reaction to The Great Gatsby as directed by Baz Luhrmann was disappointment. I knew that the book had not been done justice, but at first, I couldn't decide why. After careful consideration, I surmised that the film had two major flaws that rendered it mediocre at best. The first of these flaws was the music.

Now, everyone I've talked to about this first defect has made a similar argument; "if the movie had taken place nowadays, that would have been the music the characters listened to." And with the possible exception of anything by Will I Am, I would agree for the most part. That being said, the movie did not take place now, and there was little indication of the time, or at least, not enough.

Indeed, The Great Gatsby took place in the 1920's, but save for the cars and a few of the WWI flashbacks, the movie could easily have been set in 2013. Quite frankly, a party in Gatsby mansion did not strike me as being too dissimilar from a party at, say, the Playboy mansion (yeah, I'm there all the time). And I get it, Gatsby is supposed to be "timeless." However, timeless and anachronistic are two different beasts. Rather than feeling like I was watching a modern adaptation of a classic novel, I felt as though I was watching a Lil' Wayne music video and that the tributes to the 1920's were out of place in what seemed like a modern movie, while the music grounded me (quite inappropriately) in the present.

My second displeasure was with casting. More particularly, with the casting of Tobey Maguire. Nick Carraway is such a crucial character because of his voice. He has the coveted role of narrating in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, essentially reading poetry so powerful that if done well could make up for almost any other flaw in the movie. Unfortunately, Tobey Maguire was just plainly the wrong voice. Maybe this is personal, but hearing Fitzgerald's words emanate from Maguire's mouth was like hearing "Here Comes the Sun" on my cell-phone speaker. The words were still great, but the delivery was lacking to say the least.

Ultimately, had the story of The Great Gatsby been a Luhrmann original, it would have been interesting, captivating and altogether a solid movie. Unfortunately, however, F. Scott Fitzgerald did the leg work here, and all Luhrmann did was make us recall how truly great the book was in comparison to the movie. Sure, the film's been done before (in 1974, and then again with Paul Rudd in 2000) and Luhrman needed to be slightly more original. Nevertheless,  the Jay-Z line "took that Taylor Swift to a hundred fucking million, bitch," a lyric from the song $100 Bill featured in the movie, does not appropriately set the tone for Fitzgerald's line "the world was just a field of green 'neath smiling skies of blue." Or, you know, any other passage from the novel.


By Wil Sharon, The Ohio State University