“The Great Gatsby” (PG-13): Teens, if they take the plunge and let this overproduced but effective storytelling machine wash over them, will be surprised how the excesses of the Jazz Age, circa 1922, echo the excesses of today. And fear not, adult fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s revered novel. Director Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge!,” PG-13, 2001; “Romeo + Juliet,” PG-13, 1996), known for his over-the-top style, gives a bit of the “Moulin Rouge!” treatment to “The Great Gatsby,” but never buries the story. His stellar international cast may speak in unplaceable accents, but they get the emotions right, amid lavish decor, and with a soundtrack that mixes 1920s jazz with new works by Jay-Z and other Billboard-toppers.
Our narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) tells the story from a sanitarium where he’s in treatment for alcoholism. His collapse followed a summer of tragic disillusionment. His doctor asks Nick, once a wannabe author, to write it all down as therapy. So the typing and flashbacks begin: Nick rents a cottage in the toniest part of Long Island to spend the summer studying bond trading in hopes of landing a Wall Street job. In the towering mansion next door lives gazillionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a charming mystery man who throws huge parties. Gatsby befriends the lowly Nick, because he hopes to reconnect with Nick’s high-born cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), a former love who’s now married to the surly, unfaithful Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). The Buchanans live across the bay. Gatsby, whose very new money comes from God-knows-where, gets Nick to arrange a meeting with Daisy. She is swept off her feet for a bit, but her society marriage and violent events intervene.
All the characters drink and smoke a lot. Gatsby and Daisy begin an affair, though the bedroom scenes never show anything more explicit than kissing and cuddling on the sheets and never with any nudity. Tom Buchanan harbors viciously racist and ignorant conspiracy theories. He also has a mistress. A violent hit-and-run fatality takes place near the end of the film and is replayed in flashback and slow-motion.
“Peeples” (PG-13): A little too full of sexual humor for middle-schoolers, “Peeples” takes a sitcomish look at family dynamics – a la the raunchier sitcoms that run in late prime time after the kiddies are asleep.
This movie goes for the cheap, predictable laugh, but a cast of A-list comedic actors makes it an entertaining enough escape that many high-schoolers will buy into it. Craig Robinson (TV’s “The Office”) stars as Wade Walker, a gifted but as yet uncredentialed social worker and child psychologist, who supports himself performing at kids’ parties and giving music classes at grade schools. We meet him teaching little ones a toilet-humor song about expressing yourself with words, titled “Speak It (Don’t Leak It!).”
Wade’s live-in girlfriend Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington of TV’s “Scandal”) adores him, but doesn’t feel ready to bring him to a holiday weekend at her family’s palatial Sag Harbor waterside compound. Her father Virgil (David Alan Grier), a scowling federal judge, never likes her boyfriends. Wade shows up anyway and instantly makes a bad impression, despite the friendliness of Grace’s mom (S. Epatha Merkerson), teenage brother (Tyler James Williams) and adult sister (Kali Hawk). Wade competes with Virgil for alpha status, learns Peeples’ family secrets, and finally wins them over.
Issues that weave comedically throughout the film include substance abuse and alcoholism, breast enlargement, nudism at the beach, gay adult children afraid to come out to their parents, and teenagers acting out against a privileged upbringing by stealing and pretending to be streetwise. The dialogue includes frequent sexual innuendo and mild sexual slang. Wade does suggestive dance moves. A white character makes a stereotyped, mildly racist remark.