This is a bland cup of treacle, isn’t it? The perfect thing for soulless high school English teachers to serve upon those hapless youth that they wish to instill with a fear of reading. That’s a theory of mine, regarding public education: that the system works to maintain class stratification through a promotion of teachers and methods that discourage rather than reward natural human curiosity.
So we know the story: mysterious millionaire, swanky parties, exclusive aristocracy, unrequited love, hypocrisy. The eyes of Eckleburg, the green light at the end of the dock, the swimming pool and the books on the shelves are all real.
I suppose I should critique this film by the standard of a made for TV movie. But even in the confines of those bleak expectations it’s a wholly forgettable slice of PBS programming. At best it’s a film for retirees to sleep through, summer filler for Masterpiece Theater.
Direction: Robert Markowitz has only made TV Movies and he hasn’t made a film since 2006. Good. His pacing is horrible. Gives away the plot. The framing of the shots is graceless- lots of shoulders and bad blocking. He’s the cinematic opposite of Hunter Thompson’s beautiful freaks; too good to fail worthily, too plain to be recalled. This director truly succumbs the worst to the curse of adapting great literature- way too subservient to fitting as much prose as possible. He paces the beats like a community theater production.
Jay Gatsby (Toby Stephen). It’s supposed to be The Great Gatsby, not The Bro Gatsby. If you’re actually making Tom Buchanan look more desirable by comparison, then you’re doing it wrong. Why did they think this grinning sociopath would make a good romantic lead? I wanted to punch his teeth out with every smile. I suspected that Stephen’s Gatsby only wanted Daisy as a trophy, as in a well mounted head over his mantel place. I’d call Toby’s performance “Gatsby through the eyes of Tom Buchanan”- he does menace well. You never really think this Gatsby is anything more than a con man. That undercuts the dramatic basis of the plot.
Daisy Buchanan (Mira Sorvino)- Mira Sorvino manages a better job than Mia Farrow. She seems like a realistically repressed and fragile woman of the 1920s. It might be said she’s the most historically realistic portrayal of the character. But she doesn’t build much chemistry in the role- she’s a little too Jane Austen, too much fluttery breath and near fainting. Her accent is way off though- she sounds Franco-Italian, not Midwestern. A pretty swooney Daisy, but more fun to watch than Farrow’s mania.
Nick Carraway (Paul Rudd)- His comedic talents occasionally rise to the surface when he wields the quips, but his journey as the central eye seems more passive aggressive than an actual progression. Both Maguire and Waterston did a better job at conveying a character progression to Carraway. Rudd just starts standoffish and snarky and stays that way.
Tom Buchanan (Martin Donovan)- He never modulates his bored and pedantic tone throughout the movie. He commits affairs, destroys careers, and ruins dinner parties with the same intonation. A sullen relative of William B. Davis. Donovan just sucks the dull down to a blander shade of beige.
Jordan Baker (Francie Swift)- More playful. Not as glamorous or intriguing as Lois Chiles, but more human. One of the aspects of this film that I really like is that it actually explored the Carraway/Baker romance, which is ommitted by the other films. The flirtation between Rudd and Swift has more vivacity than the central romance, and is pretty much the only bright spot of the flick. She is the funnest of the Jordans in cinema.
Costumes and Miscellany
Competent but central costuming. Compared to the sartorial splendor of the 74 and 2013 versions, this film. The music is way too noir saxophone- somehow managing the failure of being simultaneously maudlin and sleazy. The sets and props are passable Merchant Ivory. As a side notice, Heather Goldenhersh (playing Myrtle Wilson) should have sued the makeup artist and hairstylist in this movie for damages to her career. Awful.
This film has the entertainment value of a wet doily and the dramatic heft of a day-old crouton. This film deals the best bits out first, and then farts along with brainless inertia. This is an edgeless retelling- never trying anything and never achieving anything besides apathy.
I have not the breaths nor the inclination to express the number of mehs that are merited by this mediocrity. This is a film that rates at easily 48 kilo-mehs (that is, the level of apathy sufficient to provoke 48,000 expressions of the syllable ‘meh’).
Fair Value of this movie: -$5.00. This is a homework assignment. It’s not entertainment. I want my 100 minutes back.
Until our next film picnic,
With all my pretenses of being a passably interesting being,
G. W. Devon Pack