Opening a bit bigger than expected this past weekend and getting ready to explode confetti over crowds at Cannes later this week, Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, is totally ridiculous. It’s a rococo doodle, one full of flash and dazzle and sparkle, but empty inside, which would be an apt metaphor for the titular character if Luhrmann would slow down long enough to establish such things (even if he did bother to try to the make the connection, it would probably be besieged by schizophrenic cutting and accompanied by a Jay-Z song). In fact, it was something of a chore to narrow down the list of the most ridiculous things about “The Great Gatsby” to just five. We could go on and on all day. Oh, and spoiler warning old sport.
While we seem to be ragging on “The Great Gatsby” pretty hard (read our review here), it is probably worth seeing, if only to join in the discussion (the title sequence is pretty cool, honestly, and there are sporadic moments of genuine wonderment). And after you watch it, please, come back, and tell us if we’re totally off-the-mark or if we’re forgetting some things even more worthy of dissection. Onward.....
1. “Old Sport” Is Not A Catchphrase
Leonardo DiCaprio says “old sport.” A lot. It pretty much serves as a suffix to almost everything else he says. Yes, it’s a part of the novel and yes it says something about his character – a cultivated affect that he stole from someone whose wealth was actually a more intrinsic part of their person – but after the big reveal about where it came from (which goes over about as well as that episode of “Lost” where you find out why Desmond calls everyone “brother”), the amount of “old sport”s could have been diminished significantly. It is not. Repetition is part of the Baz Luhrmann playbook – from the shot of the sooty billboard to the phrase “old sport” to that damn Lana Del Rey song (of which there are a few different versions) – one that is just as tired as hearing Leonardo DiCaprio utter the same phrase ad infinitum. And for a movie that is already wildly one-dimensional in terms of its characters, saddling Gatsby with a catchphrase doesn't help. Remember when Jeremy Renner couldn't stop saying "chems" in "The Bourne Legacy"? It's like that, but about ten thousand, glitter-covered times worse, and at least Aaron Cross needed those pills.
Admittedly, the first hour of “The Great Gatsby” is its most breathlessly entertaining, at least in a sort of high-off-the-exhaust-fumes-at-a-monster-truck-rally kind of way. But that first hour is marred, almost immediately, by the god-awful, wholly invented framing device of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), institutionalized (for what exactly? Alcoholism? Depression? Over-acting?) and telling his story to a sympathetic shrink. Not only does this awkwardly position Maguire as the lead, without his character ever driving the story forward in any real way (he’s totally devoid of agency or discernible goals), but it’s also boring and totally dull, especially since most of this “institutionalized time” stuff takes place in the snowy winter, far from the sweltering setting of the rest of the movie. This highly unoriginal framing device (ironic, considering it's being used to tackle what many consider one of the finest pieces of American writing) might be the worst bit of gilding an already overly shellacked lily, causing an overlong, bloated monstrosity to be even more cumbersomely ornate.