Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Great Gatsby--Is It Really Great?

I finished the book by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The most compelling character is the narrator, Nick Carraway. He meets Gatsby and is immediately conflicted. We get to know Gatsby and the story that unravels through Nick's eyes. Nick offers a seemingly fair, trustworthy account. Gatsby is not at all bad or all good; filtered through Nick's awe, disgust, joy, Gatsby is a realistic, flawed character. Nick doesn't shield us. He serves it up and leads us through a story of hope, deception and pining. Fitzgerald creates vivid characterizations--from the way people in the 20s dressed and their expected moral compasses to societal pressures and making the right choices based on your social class--but then positions roadblocks the characters can't solve easily. The more I contemplate it, the more I understand why The Great Gatsby continues to be a best-selling book.

Can I say the same thing about the movie? The 2000 production renders a faithful adaptation by John McLaughlin. Paul Rudd, plays Nick; Mira Sorvino, Daisy; Toby Stephens, Gatsby; and Martin Donovan, Tom Buchanan. While Sorvino does a decent job as Daisy...she's a bit boring. She needed more complexity. A greater caliber actress may have imparted a more complicated Daisy. Paul Rudd gives a good Nick, but frequently, he's got a deer-in-the-headlights look about him that is unintentionally funny. Stephens gave what you'd expect of Gatsby, but sometimes, that wide, toothy smile was too distracting. Donovan sweeps the floor with them all. His acting acumen commands attention.

The A&E Biography on Fitzgerald (contained on the DVD) was tremendous. In less than 50 minutes, you learn about the author's fascinating life, which was loaded with disappointment, sadness and battles with the drink. His works are laden with experiences and turmoil drawn from his own life. After viewing it, I wished I'd watched it before the actual movie.

Themes: Class differences, 1920s, infidelity

Director: Robert Markowitz

Scale: 3.5

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