The Great Gatsby- Why a Great Book Might Make a Bad Movie
Leonardo DiCaprio might be the Justin Bieber of actors (but with a better haircut). Yeah, he’s talented, but I get suspicious of talented performers when people in the industry have to explain to the general public just how talented these talented performers are.
Because Leonardo DiCaprio is so talented, he has a history of being miscast. He was miscast in The Aviator. He was miscast in J. Edgar. He was miscast in Gangs of New York. He was miscast in Shutter Island. I think it’s obvious where I’m going with this.
Okay, Leonardo DiCaprio might not be miscast as Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby, but he’s been miscast so many times in major roles that I’m not going to see Jay Gatsby; I’m going to see Leonardo DiCaprio pretending to be Jay Gatsby.
I have the same problem with other stars who have been miscast in too many films, stars such as Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage, Brad Pitt, Halle Berry, Meryl Streep, etc. But that’s a discussion for another time.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Remember, this is not necessarily a critique of the novel. If you get too critical of The Great Gatsby nowadays, you get accused of “not getting it.” My purpose here is to demonstrate how a great novel (I “get it”) can potentially make a lousy movie.
The Great Gatsby is short, which is good. Too many authors today would take the same story, over-write it into 800 pages and then turn it into a trilogy (or even worse, a meandering series that doesn’t know where it’s going).
I respect the 120 page book that is considered a great American classic. If more authors wrote 120 page books, I’d read more books. If George R. Martin could fit his 120 pages worth of story in each A Song of Ice and Fire novel into 120 pages (instead of 500), I’d read them. If Tom Clancy could fit his 120 pages of Jack Ryan stories into… naw, I’m done with Tom Clancy.
Yes, The Great Gatsby has a nice symmetry to it. Yes, the writing is often fantastic. But I don’t need a hammer slammed against my head to realize that the wealthy can be shallow. I know a lot of shallow poor people too. I even know a couple middle class folk that are shallow as well. Shallowness is a fairly common human quality.
What I object to in this novel (just a little bit) is the humorless shallowness. Most really shallow, cynical people I know also are kind of funny. And there isn’t much humor in The Great Gatsby. It’s not meant to be a comedy, but even dramas can be funny. Even Shakespearean tragedies have humorous moments. But I can’t recall a time I even cracked a smile while reading The Great Gatsby.
The writing also has a “tell instead of show” quality that bugs some readers who have taken writing classes in the last 30 years or so. I don’t mind a paragraph that interprets a character’s personality from his smile. Some readers do. Some readers also think Fitzgerald is showing off when he “tells” like that, but I don’t care because the novel is still short, compact, very tight, and doesn’t waste the reader’s time like a lot of classics do.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THE MOVIE?
The novel’s strengths will probably be its weaknesses as a movie.
The novel is great because of Fitzgerald’s writing style, but I’m not sure how that writing style translates onto a screen. The actors are going to have to do a lot of emoting to translate Fitzgerald’s writing. And since there’s not much humor, it’s going to be very dramatic emoting, the kind that can make a film overwrought and dreary. The film will probably be great for high school English teachers who need a day off after teaching The Great Gatsby, but I have serious doubts that the movie itself will be that good as a “movie” experience.