As someone who has dreamed of being a writer, I have been fascinated by the term, The Great American Novel. Wikipedia defines this as “a novel that is distinguished in both craft and theme as being the most accurate representation of the spirit of the age in the United States at the time of its writing or in the time it is set. It is presumed to be written by an American author who is knowledgeable about the state, culture, and perspective of the common American citizen.” According to legend, there has never been a great American novel, so why not me. Just kidding.
Although there has never been a great American novel, there have been several near misses. Among the pretenders are Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby. Gatsby was written in 1925 by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Even though being a great novel doesn’t necessarily predict a great movie (see Bonfire of the Vanities or Eat, Pray, Love), I decided to give a gander to two movie versions of The Great Gatsby.
The Great Gatsby that I first watched many years ago was the 1974 version starring Robert Redford, Sam Waterston, and Mia Farrow. The most recent version of The Great Gatsby came out this year and starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan. Redford’s film was not successful commercially or critically (37% in Rotten Tomatoes), and although DiCaprio’s movie did not impress the critics (49% in Rotten Tomatoes), it was a commercial success with almost $350 million in worldwide receipts.
My biggest disappointment with both movies was their subject matter – it seemed too frivolous for a great American novel. Who cares of the lifestyles of the rich and famous in the roaring 20s? My biggest surprise was that the screenplays seemed so similar. What were the chances that 2013 screenwriter Baz Luhrmann would glean the same scenes from the novel as did 1974 screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola? The casting in both movies is fine, with Redford/DiCaprio playing a mysterious protagonist Gatsby who reminds me of Charles Foster Kane from Citizen Kane.
I give both movies two and a half stars out of four.