Friday, June 12, 2020

TV Movie Review - The Great Gatsby 2001

The Great Gatsby
Based on the book by F. Scott Fitgerald
Starring: Paul Rudd, Martin Donovan, Mira Sorvino, Francie Swift, Alex Bisping, Bill Camp, Heather Goldenhersh, Janine Theriault, Matt Malloy, Richard Jutras, Jerry Grayson, Megan Broadman, Paul Hopkins, and Burt Harris
Release Date: January 14th, 2001
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Twenty miles outside New York City there are two eggs. Nick Carraway has found himself in the less desirable West Egg as he works in bonds in the city. But he has acquaintances in East Egg and the convergence of East and West will be memorable. One night he takes himself over to West Egg to see an old classmate from Yale who just so happens to have married his cousin Daisy. The Buchanans live a charmed and luxurious life, never worrying about what happens in their wake, and a ghost from the past will soon change their lives forever. But first there's the dinner. Nick is the only other guest besides the golf pro and childhood friend of Daisy, Jordan Baker. When Tom Buchanan gets a call during the dinner hour and Daisy storms out after her husband Jordan fills Nick in on the gossip. Tom has a girl in the city and that's her on the phone. Nick's a little surprised that Tom has the brainpower to juggle two women, but Jordan's suspicions are soon confirmed when Tom forces Nick to join him on a trip into New York City where they pick up Myrtle Wilson on the way. Once they reach the city Nick tries to break away from the couple only to be dragged into a party at their love nest with Myrtle's sister. There Nick can barely stomach the lies about Daisy being a Catholic and the violence that Tom unleashes against Myrtle and therefore he drinks. Later, inebriated, he stumbles home where he finds a manservant asleep on his front step with an invitation from his neighbor, the infamous Jay Gatsby, to come to his next party. The night of the party Nick walks over to Gatsby's house that's lit up like the world's fair. Nick feels a little superior to all the party goers knowing that he was in fact invited by the host, unlike most who just pile into a car on a weekend and head out to West Egg. Nick meets his elusive host and is invited to lunch in the city where Gatsby tells him his story and how Nick can help him achieve the one goal he has been working towards. He wants to see Daisy. Jordan fills in the details for Nick about how Gatsby and Daisy where an item but he went off to war and she married Tom. But Gatsby has never forgotten her and wants Nick to invite Daisy over so that Gatsby can show her the man he has become in an effort to take her away from her life without him. There reconciliation is everything Gatsby could have hoped for. What happens next as a result is nothing but a tragedy.    

What I find odd is how little impact any adaptation of The Great Gatsby has ever had on me. With the 1974 version I know I watched it with my Mom because she wanted me to see it, and she liked heckling movies with Robert Redford, but the only scene in the whole film I remembered is Edward Herrmann playing the piano. Then there's this TV adaptation and I have nothing. Just a blank. Oddly I remember tons of press leading up to the broadcast. An article in People about Toby Stephens being Maggie Smith's son and the "next big thing" has stayed with me more than the adaptation. Now I adore Toby, but my adoration didn't happen for many, many years, in fact it wasn't until after watching this and even Cambridge Spies and Poirot and The Queen's Sister that he made a lasting impression with Jane Eyre, but rewatching it I think I can be exempted for my lapse in memory because he's SO Jay Gatsby that you don't think of him as an actor who exists outside this role. That smile which feels like a veneer to coverup the mobster underneath is perfection. Unlike with Redford's performance you actually believe all the rumors about this Gatsby. Also I don't think I've ever seen Toby Stephens smile this much, which in itself would throw off even his diehard fans. So yes, at the time, I will admit, I was in this mainly for Paul Rudd, and a little for Mira Sorvino, because I've always loved her. But I don't know how everything about it was so forgettable because it is actually a really strong adaptation. For the first half hour it feels a bit like a beat for beat remake of the 1974 version, but listen to the genius music from Carl Davis hinting as to where this adaptation is going to go, he brings this to a whole new level. It feels like a made for TV movie that would have been event viewing in 1986, "Sidney Sheldon presents The Great Gatsby!" In fact I bet despite being only seventeen in 1986 Paul Rudd would have looked exactly the same if this was made then! And as for Rudd's Nick Carraway, at first I found his narration a little too detached, but then I noticed the subtle wry humor, the smirks, the badly concealed laughter, and I came to love this snarky version of Nick. The only flaw in the whole adaptation is the added specificity of Gatsby's wealth being tied up in fake bonds, though my Dad would probably say it was Myrtle's overly graphic death. Yes, the bonds angle made a nice parallel to what Nick's work was, but I didn't like this invented specificity. Gatsby is and should remain a mystery. 


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