F. Scott Fitzgerald kept a copy of the first chapter of “The Great Gatsby” in his pocket, and he apparently so admired the opening words of its opening chapter that he pinned it to the wall at his home in New York, making it nearly impossible to remove. “Here it is, it is gone — here is you, and here is me.”
The last line, uttered as Nick Carraway draws his eye across the scene of a typical afternoon in Long Island, was a summary of the narrator’s position in the romantic drama that would eventually become the best-selling novel of all time.
Watching “Rebecca,” this sentinel, in a room with 24 similarly rectangular mirrors, gazing right and left through a single lens at the title character, the identical likeness couldn’t be more potent. It could not be any more delicious.
Director Paul Feig, best known for the farce, “Bridesmaids,” has mixed his deep-rooted sense of humor with full respect for the source material to produce a love letter to a distinctly 19th-century text that’s both light and dark.
It’s also a movie that recognizes only the most obvious flaws in the form. The gripping, suffocating suspense at the end may seem out of place with the playfully teasing chases that follow it. And the marriage — directed at a terrifically slow and rich pace by Rowan Joffe — may make it seem stifling rather than tragic.
It’s still a captivating yarn, though, and its greatness speaks not just to its author but also to cinematographer Xavier Dolan and his editor, Sam McCurdy, who have made a potentially deadening work feel both luxuriously cinematic and watchably stylish. The greatest achievement here is the pace at which it is told — at a clip that lets us get caught up in the drama rather than dragging it out through extraneous songs or porn.
Designed by Nick Denton, the movie shifts seamlessly between a prequel depicting the lives of those who will ultimately buy and sell the house at Westcheap and one with the country’s equivalent of Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage in its coming of age section. But unlike the enchanting screenplay in the Roald Dahl novel the film is based on, the longed-for future is not guaranteed.
It remains to be seen whether or not viewers who already know the finished novel will catch any of the stops on the ride, but they will have a lot to chew on without having to wait for the inevitable happy ending. (A momentarily painful revelation at the end — which reveals the wedding nuptials and staggers the audience briefly — provides us with the requisite jump-out-of-your-seat feeling to accompany the rest of the movie.)
Melissa McCarthy is simply delightful in the title role, and her elixir of sensuality and wit guarantees the audience members on hand another great film that rewards their attention. Rebecca Frost also gets her moment to shine, especially in an icy ice-cream commercial that captures her every emotion as it underscores the perplexing conclusion. In the end, though, it’s an agonizing issue that bores even the film’s female star: If Rebecca isn’t the apple of his eye, then what kind of husband is he?
Soon enough, their rapturous feelings become a little sharper than their erring idealism and learning the hard way that their bond has a price — they have to discover it.
This is not a particularly profound point, given that audiences have been watching whomever’s hand is shown to win the struggle for quite some time. But “Rebecca” makes an entertaining case that we — although most of us may fail to find ourselves among the thousands of Fitzgerald devotees — should have to search long and hard.
This reinterpretation may get in the way of discovering the time-honored magic of a wholly believable work of art. Still, as with “The Great Gatsby,” I found myself laughing heartily at it, appreciating the two teams of filmmakers that made it possible, as Fitzgerald did himself, to please both the author’s daughter and his admirers to my wonder.