Great Gatsby Review – Underwhelming Movie Based on an Overrated Book

They’re a rotten crowd…You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.

– Nick Carraway’s parting words to Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby

If you have not read F.Scott Fitzgerald’s so-called masterpiece The Great Gatsby, you’re not likely to be able to make much sense of this movie.

The wild, overflowing parties, the music, the huge mansions, the flashy fast cars and the repeated “old sport” are bound to throw you off and leave you bewildered.

Not Worth It

Considering its exalted position in the pantheon of American literature, I read The Great Gatsby about a year back when news broke of Amitabh Bachchan snagging a bit role in the film.

The 1925 novel has some appeal.

Admittedly, the prose is decent and there’s a certain style that might find favor with some readers . But I found there was not much by way of a plot or character development and concluded the 180-page book was a triumph of exaggerated style over substance.

And the story of Great Gatsby, as the noted essayist and critic H.L.Mencken rightly put it in 1925, is “somewhat trivial.”

In my not so humble opinion, the book does not deserve its current status as a classic. In Fitzgerald’s time, the book was not the success it is today.

This week, I picked up the book again to see if I’d missed something in my first reading. No, my opinion of Fitzgerald’s book did not change even after the second reading.

Vladimir Nabokov may have exaggerated when he pronounced Great Gatsbyterrible” but the novel is certainly not worth making into a movie five times (four times on the big screen and once on TV).


Given my unfulfilled expectations in Fitzgerald’s novel, I went to the movie with low hopes.

Alas, the movie failed to come up even to the level of the book.

The latest film version of Great Gatsby features Leonardo DiCaprio, Amitabh Bachchan, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton et al.

With the novel, you, at least, have a clear sense of the events, the principal characters and the few oddballs that liven up things a bit.

The movie, on the other hand, is all a chaotic whirl marked by pedestrian performances.

The Great Gatsby is essentially a love story set in 1922, a period referred to as the Roaring Twenties or the Jazz Age.

The setting for both the book and the movie is the north shore of Long Island, an area much familiar to me.

But the movie was shot almost entirely in Australia, home of director Baz Luhrmann. So you’re not likely to recognize any of the Long Island or Queens landmarks you know. Looks like they’ve merged cheesy computer graphics to cheat us into believing it’s Long Island, Queens and Manhattan.

Disappointing most of all is Leonardo DiCaprio as the principal character, Jay Gatsby.

Leo seems far too stiff and nervous in the title role.

Even his frequent “old sport” lacked an authentic ring.

Of the five main characters, only Joel Edgerton (playing Tom Buchanan) was endurable, but only some of the time.

There’s not much to be said about Carey Mulligan (Daisy) or Tobey Maguire (the narrator Nick Carraway).

Neither left the faintest impression on me.

The movie follows the book. Well, mostly.

In a departure from the book, the narrator Nick Carraway is shown admitted in a sanatorium after leaving New York and returning to his home in the West.

The camera work of Simon Duggan is impressive here and there but by no means eye candy.

What About Amitabh Bachchan?

Much has been made by Indians of Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan’s role in the film.

Bachchan plays the Jewish gangster Meyer Wolfsheim, Gatsby’s senior partner in crime.

Although Bachchan’s is a short role with little screen time, he does leave some impact.

In any case, I’m grateful the old fart didn’t screw up.

Bottom Line

Fitzgerald’s book has a subtlety that director Baz Luhrmann failed to capture in the film.

There was not much of a response for the late night show Thursday.

The majority of the 30-odd people who showed up were likely those who’d read the book. I overheard discussion among some viewers while exiting and got the impression they were not too thrilled either.

To me, Great Gatsby the film turned out to be an underwhelming production of an overrated book.

4 Responses to "Great Gatsby Review – Underwhelming Movie Based on an Overrated Book"

  1. Madmax673   May 10, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    So roaring twenties and Jazz age didn’t do much on screen? Do you think 3D was required at all?

    I thought Amitabh Bachchan would be so bad that he’d even make DiCaprio look bad. He did a good job, eh?

    Oh well, I guess I’ll just stick with the book.

    Speaking of Jazz, just reminded me of Jerry Maguire’s night with Dorothy Boyd with that music on the back ground πŸ˜‰ Responds:

    1. It’s hard to capture the zeitgeist of the twenties or any other era on screen, more so in a movie like Great Gatsby where the love and confrontation angles dominate after the parties and initial meetings.

    2. 3D required? No! I went for the regular version. In my opinion, most 3D films are ripoffs, just a way to squeeze more bucks from viewers.

    3. BTW, what did you think of the book?

    4. I liked that jazz fan Chad (the au pair who doesn’t like to be called nanny) too in Jerry Maguire. Liked everyone in the film – Cuba Gooding JR, the little kid Jonathan Lipnicki, RenΓ©e Zellweger, Bonnie Hunt. Even Tom Cruise. πŸ˜‰

    • Madmax673   May 10, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      I read the book way long back and to be honest, I was kinda carried away with all the hype as it is considered to be one of the most revered piece of literature.

      I have ordered it once again from the library. Just arrived (75th anniversary edition). πŸ™‚

      I’ll give it another thorough read and give you my take on it soon. Responds:

      Excerpt from NYT’s 1925 review of Great Gatsby:

      A curious book, a mystical, glamourous story of today. It takes a deeper cut at life than hitherto has been enjoyed by Mr. Fitzgerald. He writes well-he always has-for he writes naturally, and his sense of form is becoming perfected.


      • Madmax673   May 11, 2013 at 6:36 pm

        I guess it had to do with his own trade mark & original voice during that time period. I’d tend to say he was a complete authority of his own work! Here is what he wrote to his editor:

        “Would the 25 cent press keep Gatsby in the public eye — or is the book unpopular? Has it had its chance? Would a popular reissue in that series with a preface not by me but by one of its admirers — I can maybe pick one — make it a favorite with class rooms, profs, lovers of English prose — anybody. But to die, so completely and unjustly after having given so much. Even now there is little published in American fiction that doesn’t slightly bare [sic] my stamp — in a small way I was an original

        –Fitzgerald to Perkins, 20 May 1940

        Speaking of thorough read, I am at the third chapter now. Sorry SI — Its going way too slow. πŸ™

        I took a nap at page 31: “…gra…vure pictures of the sporting life”…I was like “alright Einstein (no sarcasm) I’ll get to the rest of your pages soon”!

        I also napped at page 41: “Mrs. Wilson rejected the compliment by raising her eyebrow in disdain”. There is a repetition later in that page “Myrtle raised her eyebrows in despair at the shiftlessness of the lower orders”. I felt that I’ve read too many eyebrows already. Responds:

        I have a copy of Fitzgerald’s correspondence. Alas, Scott’s letter to Perkins is missing in that volume, presumably because my 640-page book (Correspondence of F.Scott Fitzgerald) is an edited version.

        But I found this June 1925 letter from a certain Shane Leslie on Great Gatsby interesting:

        Long Island cannot have an epic because its inhabitants are not sagalike or heroic – only locusts or fireflies that float in an ephemeral radiancy.

        Having lived on Long Island for a while, I can attest to the veracity of Shane Leslie’s statement. πŸ˜‰

  2. studio4movies   May 10, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    off topic – Is SI reviewing Tamil movie Soodhu Kavvum?

    It’s been a while since you reviewed a Tamil movie. Responds:

    Sweetie, no…..250-mile round-trip is too far.

    We’ll have the review of the new Bollywood “zombie” film Go Goa Gone tonight.

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