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The Great Gatsby- Why a Great Book Might Make a Bad Movie

March 17, 2012


Leonardo DiCaprio

Who will Leonardo DiCaprio be miscast as next? Perhaps as Atticus Finch in a To Kill a Mockingbird remake? Maybe as Moses in a remake of The Ten Commandments? Image via Wikipedia

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. 

English: Black-and-white photographic portrait...

F. Scott Fitzgerald: He does kind of resemble Leonardo DiCaprio (or is it the other way around?). Image via Wikipedia

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. 


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.

  1. Note: The 70’s movie of Gatsby with Robert Redford was a stinker.

    • Wow! I know nothing of this version. Did Robert Redford have his 1970’s windblown hair style in this 20’s period piece, or did they make him get a haircut?

      • That version was terrible, which makes me anxious for this next one. I had to watch the Robert Redford one (ironically) in a high school English class, apparently the teacher couldn’t explain any more on Fitzgerald’s piece and resorted to film. I was the lone ranger that actually understood, or even read for that matter, the novel. The others… well, they loved the movie.
        They will have to do a lot of expanding in the screenplay, and I’m guessing it will be in the romance department…

  2. “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…)”

    What you just said above was not the focal point of your post, I know, but I just wanted to mention briefly why this is happening. I agree with you whole heartedly that ALL books DO NOT need to be 800 pages, all stories don’t need that many words to tell. Seriously. However book publishers now “demand” that books be longer than ever before-around 400 or 500 pages for an adult book (or they won’t accept the manuscript for publication) so they can justify the swelling prices of books. Great Gatsby, Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Planet Of The Apes, A Clockwork Orange…are all fabulous & potent novelettes & novellas, but publishers won’t touch anything that short today. So readers end up reading a lot of filler or there’s an extra subplot thrown in that really isn’t needed (to add volume). I’m not a lazy writer but personally, I don’t want every book I write to have to be an 800 page tome, you know. It’s too much. Ok, little rant over. Ha!

    ABOUT LEO There was something about Aviator I couldn’t put my finger on that made it feel phony to me & I think you nailed part of it-he was sorely miscast. And he wasn’t even very good in the film. I used used to LOVE his work: Gilbert Grape, This Boy’s Life, Total Eclipse, and even Critter’s 3 honestly, but he just keeps doing Biopics now (Catch Me If U Can, Aviator, J Edgar,now Wolf of Wall St.). He’s boring now & I don’t understand at this point why Scorsese keeps on casting him. I think they are both just trying to win Oscars, nothing more. That’s why he just does Biopics IMO. Sorry this is so long! Thank you for letting me comment!

  3. katblogger permalink

    I agree with your opinion of the Great Gatsby – it’s nicely written in places, but boy is it a downer. Since our class had to analyze every instance of the color green, it got a little old.

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