What’s More Predictable: Grantland or The Great Gatsby?

The Great Gatsby - Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan

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by Turner Lavoie

Literary Correspondent, White Cover Magazine

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The funny thing about being an awfully pessimistic website (all the time) is that you eventually become as predictable as the stuff you claim isn’t creative. This doesn’t make you a genius. It makes you a mouth.

For Grantland, this means a multitude of things, and most of it ends up keeping the occasionally funny editorial blackboard in the irrelevant bin. For starters, is it a sports site or is it a lifestyle site? Sure, anything news base should diversify its stock a little bit, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anything athletic on Grantland these days.

And then there’s the talent.

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You could have imagined every member of the Grantland staff would go one of two ways on The Great Gatsby: they’d hate it, or they’d hate it and laugh.

Listen, guys, we KNOW you don’t like it. I don’t have to watch The Great Gatsby to know this, and I don’t have to read Wesley Morris’s review to know this, either.

But, just in case anyone cares to dig deeper than the write-up on Facebook, here’s a paragraph or two:

“Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby has one truly spectacular shot. It comes after what feels like an hour — an hour of spinning and zooming and whooshing, of minced imagery, of Tobey Maguire talking and talking and talking, of a 1922 that keeps whispering the songs of 2000-something (Alicia Keys’s voice wails New Yoooooooork as a car crosses a bridge), of relentless audiovisual sugar. As for the shot, it’s just a close-up of Jay Gatsby. But the movie has so gossiped about his parties, his travels, his riches, his essence, his bogusness that you just want to see for yourself what’s got everybody so breathless. You want to lose your breath, too.”

(Sounds to me like Luhrmann actually nailed the novel then, but that’s not important…)

“So when Luhrmann finally put a face to the fanaticism and produced Leonardo DiCaprio’s, I reached for an inhaler. DiCaprio’s mouth is etched, equidistant, between a smile and a smirk, his blond hair frozen and fixed into amber waves, his skin as pink and orange as grapefruit meat. This is why you go to the movies — for a sight you’ve never seen even though you’ve seen it a hundred times. That’s DiCaprio for a lot of this movie: somehow new. You wonder how many weeks it took for him and Luhrmann and the crew to determine the math and chemistry of that smile. It’s a moment that conjures up visions of blueprints and charts and controls. Yet for as much calculation as there is in that introduction to Gatsby, there’s also a quality that’s simply beyond science: stardom.”

(This is why you go to the movies — for a sight you’ve never seen even though you’ve seen it a hundred times. Isn’t that like all movies? Have how films have you ever actually really watched and thought, “Wow, that’s really original. Congratulations, Paul Thomas Anderson.”)

“For one thing, the movie doesn’t gather as it goes. This is Luhrmann, though. He has no sense of proportion. He thinks every shot, every microcut, is significant. At some point you stop trusting his sense of the dramatic. It’s all drama to him, and no one has that kind of stamina. And yet for all the antic, manic itchiness of his Gatsby, for all the jazz hands, the movie doesn’t reach out and grab you. Luhrmann’s not interpreting the book — or he’s not interpreting it far enough. There are interesting interpretations that span the gamut of quality. There’s the all-black Gatsby (2002’s risible G) and the shockingly seductive 2010 stage production (Gatz) that grows out of one man reading the entire novel aloud at work. Luhrmann’s movie has a noble literalism. It appreciates the surfaces of Fitzgerald’s novel. The words appear typed on the screen and fall like snow or ash. (On top of everything else, it’s as if Luhrmann’s just learned to read, too.) You don’t feel the drunken drugginess that you see before you, and that’s not because this is a cautionary movie — Luhrmann’s Twitter handle would be @cautiontothewind. It’s because reverence has bogged him down. If Gatsby is on any drug, it’s diet coke.”

(Well, okay, that sounds like a fair criticism…)