How to Make a Good 'Great Gatsby' Movie: A Guide for Baz Luhrmann

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Paramount

1974: Coppola, Redford, and Farrow

With Francis Ford Coppola on the script, and Robert Redford and Mia Farrow—six years after her critically acclaimed turn in Rosemary's Baby—set to star, the 1974 version had all the makings of success. And, with multiple Oscar and Golden Globe wins, love it or hate it, the 1974 picture stands as the most memorable adaptation.

But many would agree with Vincent Canby's critical Times review of the film, in which he wrote that the film was "as lifeless as a body that's been too long at the bottom of a swimming pool."

While Gatsby is a fast-paced read, the movie drags; there are too many glamour-shot close-ups of flowers and champagne bottles and pretty, crying faces. ("It's frivolous without being much fun," Canby wrote.) Even more than its predecessor, the movie focuses on—and sentimentalizes—the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy, and yet, their connection feels more contrived than ever. Roger Ebert, as always, put it best:

Nor, to be honest, can we quite understand what's so special about Daisy Buchanan. Not as she's played by Mia Farrow, all squeaks and narcissism and empty sophistication. In the novel, Gatsby never understands that he is too good for Daisy. In the movie, we never understand why he thought she was good enough for him. And that's what's missing.

Perhaps Canby hit it on the head when he wrote, "Mia Farrow is lovely, eccentric and unfathomable as Daisy, which may be an impossible role, one that is much more easily accepted on the page than on screen." That's exactly what makes Daisy so hard to cast now—and why it's fun to discuss the possibilities, as Jezebel and others have. Daisy is a bundle of contradictions—charming; naïve; self-serving; confused; shallow; beautiful; childish—she exudes class, but she has a vulgar side (Fitzgerald famously wrote that "her voice was full of money"). It's a much more difficult, and thankless, role than Nick—played excellently here by Sam Waterston—and even Gatsby.

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Adam Eaglin is a New York-based writer and editor. He previously worked in The Atlantic's Boston office.

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