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Sun June 24, 2007
Try to remember Gatsby.
By John DeSando, WCBE's It's Movie Time
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"
John Greenleaf Whittier
Evening is dominated by regret, saturated so completely I regret having seen the film. Well, not quite, but rarely has a film had such an accomplished cast and high-class writing pedigree and disappointed me so thoroughly. The regret theme is hammered home so superficially I was driven to try to remember lines from The Great Gatsby to mitigate my growing anger at being treated by the filmmakers as if I could not endure subtlety or ambivalence.
In other words, I got it from the first scene where Vanessa Redgrave looks out over her Newport memory at her young self (Claire Danes) and begins what have to be the easiest lines she's ever had playing an aging romantic: "Why didn't I marry Harris?" The variations on this theme in the movie are legion, even when it's not the young doctor, played by Patrick Wilson, whom her friend, Lila (Mamie Gummer?looking very much like her Aunt, Meryl Streep), also regrets not marrying.
One of my major problems is that it's never clear why these substantial women spent so much emotional coin on a character we never get to know, except for his Paul Newmanish good looks. But like the rest of the regret-laden characters, this film spends no dramatic coin on depth?all is skating on the surface, letting us do the sub-textual work rather than the dialogue. In the coda, Old Lila (Streep) makes an attempt at character deconstruction by saying, "We [women] are mysterious creatures." Give me a break; could I have a bit more than platitude?
A regrettable life is Buddy's (Hugh Dancy), Lila's drunken, poetic brother, who tries to prevent Lila from marrying the wrong man (not Buddy), whom Buddy loves also, but then this gay sub-theme is never explored beyond a drunken kiss. Nothing in this film is explored except maybe its shameless borrowing from Gatsby without a modicum of understanding that his loss was not just of a woman but of a class struggle, a dying age, and self worth. For Ann, it's just Harris.
The cars are shiny period antiques, the house is beyond the reach of anyone in the audience, and the insights into smart women facing loss are none. Thank goodness for the arrival of evening, when the real stars are the lights in the firmament, not the rich wailing for their lost loves.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com