Gatsby would really love to be Holden Caulfield. He shares Caulfield’s privileged background and hatred of “phoniness” but somehow can’t break from his super-rich family. These are the sort of people who organise posh soirées and call their children Gatsby. He doesn’t want to be part of this, but he would prefer to keep on receiving their handouts.
Gatsby goes to a prestigious liberal arts college where he reads “loads, but nothing on the syllabus”. He spends his spare time playing vinyl, going to poker bars and visiting piano bars. He claims to have deep intellectual opinions, but we rarely hear anything from him that is remotely inspiring. I think that we’re supposed to find Gatsby an intriguing outsider, but he seems like a dick to me.
Gatsby has the chance to visit his home town of Manhattan when his girlfriend Ashleigh is offered the chance to interview a famous Indie film director. As the interview overruns, Gatsby becomes increasingly irritated. Again, I think we are supposed to identify with his frustration at not being able to show Ashleigh his town, but his whole attitude reeks of privileged entitlement.
Ashleigh is a little naive (she’s from Arizona but is starring in the sort of film that only allows real agency to people born and bred in New York). So, she is passed on from the director to his screenwriter to a sexy Latino actor, all of whom see it as their duty to seduce the southern ingenue. A Woody Allen film where older men behave inappropriately towards young women? Who’d have thunk it?
Meanwhile Gatsby is becoming increasingly overwhelmed by a sense of outrage that his putative girlfriend may prefer to spend her time with dubious men than with him. So he starts to dabble with the younger sister of an ex-girlfriend and a high-duty prostitute. This is, of course, fully understandable. The idea that the journalism student Ashleigh may want to take a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to talk to film stars and directors is, equally understandably, beyond the pale. Its as if #MeToo never happened.
This is all leading up to a Great Revelation from Gatsby’s mother that lays open the film’s idea about who is acceptable, and who not. Gatsby’s mother may well have not raised him properly, but her transgressions are excused when it is revealed that she is also not completely pure.
The film revels in the opulence of its rich protagonists, and insinuates that if you’re not able to regularly visit art galleries, then you’re not worthy of having an opinion. At the same time, we notice that the poshoes who take their photo opportunities in front of these Great Works of Art seem to be unable to articulate anything intelligible about what they are viewing.
Perhaps its worth saying something about The Unpleasantness. This film didn’t have a proper release in the USA because of legitimate concerns about allegations about child abuse from Allen. Now, if anyone has clear proof for either side of these arguments, please send them to me, but everything that I have read so far says that there are claims and counter-claims, which are both made with deepest sincerity. Someone is not telling the truth, although its not clear who.
In short, I believe that there is an argument that Allen should never profit from his films, but have yet to see the convincing argument for this (please send). Having said this, I feel somehow redeemed by by free ticket which means that I didn’t pay to see this film. I feel much more conflicted seeing films by Roman Polanski, against whom the charges are much more incontestable.
And here’s the problem. Since Polanksi was, with plausible evidence. accused of drugging and raping an underage girl, he has produced a series of remarkable films. In the absence of a mass campaign, I am honestly not sure how to deal with this. Meanwhile, the charges against Allen are much more flimsy, yet the films that he produces haven’t been worth seeing since, maybe Husbands and Wives 27 years ago.
In short, you may choose to boycott this film on political grounds, and I fully understand. But even if you can reconcile your political opinions with what Allen maybe has or hasn’t done, on an artistic level, this is truly a terrible film. There are some jokes, which fall completely flat, and all the characters live in a world of privilege that just says nothing to me.
The problem with Allen seems not (just) to be because of his dubious sexual politics. He has entered a world whose protagonists have oh so intellectual discussions in the MOMA but just don’t represent how the rest of us think and feel. This may be good enough for some of Allen’s fanboys. It isn’t enough for me.