Few movies fill me with as much indifference as the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. That’s not to say there are no redeeming qualities; the costumes are eye-catching and Robert Redford is hotter than the face of the sun. Still, my non-reaction of “Well, that was a movie” is something I cannot ignore. Especially since it’s not the first time I’ve felt it.
Before my decision to revisit Gatsby and its film adaptation this year, I had only fuzzy recollections from junior English class to tide me over. Art deco book covers, something about a swimming pool. I had read the novel, but I slept through practically the entire movie. At the time, I dismissed my sleepiness as an unrelated quirk. (English was my favorite class after all; imagine how often I dozed off in other subjects.) Turns out my Gatsby snoozing was more telling than I thought.
First off, Mia Farrow’s shrill and vapid portrayal of Daisy Buchanan makes her insufferable to watch. While Daisy’s abusive marriage and confused heart are poignant character points, Farrow’s performance is distracting. She seems spacey instead of dreamy, affected instead of sincere. A certain degree of wide-eyed wonder is appropriate for the role of Daisy; what viewers receive is parody.
Secondly, the film’s unrelenting pursuit of accuracy is so glaring it puts viewers on edge. While careful consideration of the source material is commendable, too close of an adaptation shows a lack of originality. From plot to dialogue, nearly every adaptable element from the novel was harnessed and spewed out onscreen. Gatsby clocks in around 140 minutes, but it feels more like 240. The gradual story development in Fitzgerald’s work translates to straight tedium in the film.
Furthermore, the literary dialogue sounds stilted and awkward. Nearly all cast members deliver their lines as if they were reading them. The only exception is Sam Waterson; his approach to Nick Carraway is more naturalistic. (Unfortunately, Nick spends most of the action as a hapless observer.) In trying to incorporate Gatsby’s every detail, filmmakers failed to evoke its spirit.
When combined, these flaws detract from a valuable cautionary tale of decadence, carelessness, and greed. In the time I spent struggling to watch the film, I could have read a sizable amount from the novel. If Gatsby enthusiasts require a fix before the new release on Friday, I recommend they forgo the feature and embrace the book instead.