The best part of the movie though, was listening to the girls in the back who clearly didn't know what happens in the novel. They kept exclaiming things loudly at crucial plot points, and it was hilarious. Anywho.
If you haven't read The Great Gatsby yet and you don't know what happens, either go pick it up and read it, or don't be surprised if my opinions and summaries spoil things- it's like 90 years old and less than 200 pages. Spoilers are a moot point.
So here are my rambly thoughts about what I thought was an awesome movie.
What I like about Gatsby is that he is representative of most of us who weren't born with lots of money. While he did build his fortune illegally, the fact that he got there and produced such splendor out of sheer determination and imagination, full of hope and dreams, is pretty admirable. Even knowing how it all ends up, I couldn't help but liking him and pulling for him. Gatsby isn't just the representation of the pitfalls of the American dream, but the dream people have all over the world. But Gatsby, like many of us, makes the mistake of desiring the past (while forgetting the bad parts of the past) to have a happy future, which makes his line "Can't repeat the past? Why of course you can!" so tragic, because Gatsby put all of his hope in restoring a past to create a future, something that was probably beyond his reach the second Daisy chose to marry for money, maybe even before, when Gatsby fell in love with the idea of Daisy.
DiCaprio, to me, had a very nuanced performance as Gatsby. He was delightful, charming and theatrical. I loved that he could turn on a dime; in one scene his face switches from enigmatic, eccentric neighbor to criminal mobster in just a few frames. It really highlighted the duality of Gatsby's character and all of the faces and parts that Gatsby has had to play. He shifts from being a cunning yet popular business acquaintance to the jaw clenching, jealous former boyfriend when he meets Tom unexpectedly. And the way Gatsby looks adoringly at Daisy, accompanied by the line "He looked at her, the way all girls want to be looked at from a man" had me falling in love with him throughout the movie. I cannot say enough about Leo's portrayal. So I'll say some more.
Leo's best scene is possibly the big confrontation in the hotel. Tom's continual verbal assault and Daisy's reluctance to make the choice he so fervently desires builds and builds until he turns on a dime and shatters his carefully crafted facade. Yet, he still desperately tries to get the flitty, silly Daisy to actually stand up and make a choice. But she cannot leave the comforts of her life, nor can she make a decision by herself. Gatsby built her up and put her on a pedestal in his mind (Daisy representing the aura and station he always wanted to achieve), desperately trying to make something, anything of himself so he would be worth a girl who ended up being worth less than he could have ever predicted-sorry. I hate Daisy, even though Carrie Mulligan was great. And yet after the accident, he remains resolutely in love with her until the bitter, tragic end. He had built up the future so realistically in his head, and had created this Gatsby persona and believed in it so fiercely that he cannot see that it cannot last, and cannot recognize the flaws in his dreams, and that the person he was working towards is a stupid cow, unworthy of his love, hope or greatness. I know you're meant not to like Daisy, but she was a product of the time, caught between being controlled and being the projection of a romantic vision. No wonder she couldn't chose... It's still hard not to get mad at her though Anyway.
Another scene where he shines as Gatsby (besides the first time Nick meets him, which was done brilliantly) is when he gets Nick to arrange tea with Daisy. The normally enigmatic and confident Gatsby is reduced to a nervous wreck in anticipation, where he tries to create the perfect moment of reunion. His nerves and jitteriness are awkwardly adorable to watch, and when Nick leaves them alone and comes back, his demeanor completely changes, and he is once again the suave, dapper Gatsby that he created.
DiCaprio captures Gatsby's unbridled passion and hope for a future that he cannot possibly achieve, though Gatsby himself, in his idealism, cannot see that this is unattainable. His joy and hope is plainly visible when he shows Daisy around the house, and he starts to believe he will get the life he wants and has clawed up from poverty for.
There have been some complaints about the movie, which I address with my own opinions.
It's too over the top. Um, I think the people who say this didn't read the book or didn't get it. My thoughts are "Ain't no party like a Gatsby party cause a Gatsby party is EFFING NUTS." I liked the craziness- the roaring twenties weren't ROARING for nothing. The rich had nothing else to do but spend their money on opulence and flashiness. It fit. It also highlighted the simplicity of Nick's or Gatsby's lives outside of the party world, and the Valley of Ashes was a stark contrast to the glamour of the city. Gatsby's parties were supposed to be the craziest of the craziest, and that's why they were AWESOME. I loved the flashy. I loved the over the top glam. The 20s were flashy. Gatsby wanted to be flashy for Daisy. Kind of the point.
Gatsby's accent slips in and out- this is either Leo slipping or on purpose, showing the character that Gatsby has created, but what he isn't. I didn't really notice it, and at any rate it didn't bug me because it makes sense for him to adopt the accent and phrases of those he aspired to be, and when he lets his guard down, for them to slip. He also says "old sport" an alarming amount, trying to reinforce is illegally gathered status level. Once he slips and reveals his real, "non old money" persona and Daisy basically dumps him.
Also, from what I remember of the novel, it follows it pretty well, with a couple of secondary character cuts. Jordan Baker's role was cut significantly and that bugged people, but I found I didn't mind the change. I don't remember caring much about her in the book, nor Nick really, as he was kind of just the means to tell the story about Gatsby. I liked the more laser like focus on Gatsby and didn't mind that the extras were cut.
The framing device has also been questioned and criticized, though I can see Nick needing a doctor after the tragedy. His disillusionment with New York after Gatsby's death is quite understandable, and since I don't think Nick is a strong character, falling into a depressive or manic state didn't seem unreasonable to me. I don't know if he necessarily had to be with a psychiatrist but getting him to write the novel as therapy was, I thought, a pretty excellent idea.
Nick being made a character was an interesting and debated choice, but I liked it. McGuire never really impressed me in other things as he was always kind of blah, but I thought he was a great Nick. Nick is kind of a meek, just there guy (this is mostly cause he is quiet, a good listener and incredibly tolerant, which makes him seem sometimes bland). Which makes sense, because he kind of just stands on the sidelines and watches majesty and tragedy unfold before him, but he is the watchers'/readers' liaison into the world of Jay Gatsby. He was also kind of awkward, which Nick should be, since the whole situation is pretty awkward for him. So I liked that he was an actual, important character, but I also liked that he was trustworthy and easily persuaded and used, and that he didn't understand the intricacies of everyone around him and was ultimately disgusted and disillusioned by the horribleness that surrounded him. Plus, he got to give his compliment to Gatsby, which was heartbreaking but beautiful at the same time. Even though Gatsby wasn't the most honorable man in the way he achieved his means, he had a genuine hope and desire to be more than he was that makes him so much better than Tom and Daisy, who break people's hearts, destroy lives and then just hide behind their money when shit goes wrong.
The rest of the cast was quite good and well suited to their roles, and I think that the anachronistic music worked, mostly cause it's a Baz thing. His over the top ness was contained appropriately, I think, to the raging parties that Gatsby threw in the hopes that Daisy, lover of material splendor, would stop by. And it just works. There's a great Lana del Rey song to listen for. Just fantastic.
Ugh I want to see it again.