A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that director Baz Luhrmann's (Moulin Rouge) take on The Great Gatsby is a decadent, dizzying version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic American novel. The movie is true to the book, featuring scenes with lots of drinking -- often to excess -- and smoking. There's not too much swearing (though some soundtrack song lyrics include infrequent use of "s--t" and "f--k"), but expect some violence (a man punches another, a car hits a woman head-on, and a character shoots another) and sexuality. Couples -- including people married to others -- are shown kissing and in bed (bare shoulders). Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan star; that, plus the movie's hip soundtrack and lush style, are likely to make it very appealing to teens.
What's the story?
Set in New York in the lavish Roaring Twenties, this adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic THE GREAT GATSBY stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, a wealthy, mysterious, self-made man who moves into a Long Island mansion and makes a name for himself by throwing lavish, bacchanalian parties -- all for the singular purpose of winning back the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). Daisy's husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton), is oblivious (at first) to it all because he's so preoccupied with his own dalliances. Witness to it all is Gatsby's neighbor, Daisy's cousin, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who plays a part in bringing them together and witnesses a series of events that ultimately reveals the characters' tragic flaws.
Is it any good?
Baz Luhrmann is a polarizing director. His cinematic canvasses have sometimes been dismissed for being overstuffed, his take on the classics -- a mix of tradition and overwhelming modernism -- muddled. The same criticisms can be brought to bear on The Great Gatsby. Some scenes explode with so much visual stimulation that watching them feels rapacious and gluttonous -- a perfect strategy for evoking the excesses of the Jazz Age, yes, but also distracting and hard to enjoy. Luhrmann can move too quickly from one overfull scene to the next, too, not giving the audience time to take it all in. And the music -- what happened to the music? The soundtrack is wonderful, but we only hear slivers of most of it, and often not enough for the songs to enhance the movie's vision. Luhrmann used music much more masterfully in Romeo + Juliet, which some may say is a more accomplished adaptation (there, he fully modernized a classic, setting it in present times -- unlike Gatsby, which he keeps in the 1920s).
And yet, Gatsby is still genius, even if so much of what horrified in Fitzgerald's book -- the rottenness of the lot of them -- doesn't have as much resonance in these Facebook-heavy, reality-TV-driven times. For all its flaws, The Great Gatsby is a mind-bending experience. Commit to it fully as its own entity, a re-invention as much as Jay Gatsby himself is, and you'll be transported and affected by the heartbreak of it all, the folly of a man filled with hope but borne back, as Fitzgerald put it, ceaselessly into the past. Aside from the miscasting of Edgerton and Jason Clarke (who plays George), who both overact, the rest of the ensemble is perfect. DiCaprio is as good as he has ever been, distilling Gatsby's striving, hopeful, and ultimately destructive nature into a heartbreaking cocktail. Mulligan may not have as much depth, but she nonetheless makes for a frustratingly appealing Daisy. And Maguire? He makes no false move here, not a single one, proving the perfect witness to the profligate, imprudent ways of Nick's people.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Gatsby and his commitment to Daisy. Why was it so important for him to be rich? What motivated his behavior?
The movie is a modernized period adaptation of a classic. Does it work? How is it different from more faithful adaptations? Does the modern soundtrack make it more accessible?
Hollywood loves to mine books for material. What's lost and gained in the cinematic translation?
How does the movie portray drinking? Is it glamorized? Are there realistic consequences?
- In theaters: May 10, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: August 27, 2013
- Cast: Carey Mulligan, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire
- Director: Baz Luhrmann
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book characters
- Run time: 142 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.