by ALEX CARNEVALE
The Last Tycoon
creator Billy Ray
In the meantime, Stahl is now seriously ill. He and Kathleen have been taking "breathless chances." They have succeeded in having one last fling, which has taken place during an overpowering heat wave in the early part of September. But their meetings have proved unsatisfactory. - from the synopsis of the unwritten conclusion to The Love of the Last Tycoon
The Love of the Last Tycoon was the kind of literary disaster than probably never should have seen the light of day. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a weird, vaguely homosexual worship piece on producer Irving Thalberg. Thalberg was a Jew who had the kind of inspirational story Scott had never been able to credibly write. Naturally, it turned out that this perfect male icon was doomed.
In Billy Ray's adaptation of this mess, he casts Matt Bomer as Hollywood executive Monroe Stahr. Bomer, recently of a Guy Ritchie movie that should have never been released, is slowly improving as an actor. Here Ray positions him opposite Lily Collins. Ms. Collins' eyebrows are inches thick and she looks like a deformed side character in a John Steinbeck novel. She loves Monroe, spending long monologues whining about how heroic he is. No one knows what the fuck she's talking about, least of all her father Pat (Kelsey Grammar), who runs this studio.
For some reason Billy Ray has turned the incredibly weak plot of Fitzgerald's half-novel into a Nazis vs Jews story. "I can't even put the word Nazi into one of my pictures," Bomer whines to one of his friends even though this makes so little sense it actually gives me a headache. Does Billy Ray think that the word Nazi was a slur? It was the name of their party.
Back to Scott's book, which was reconstructed by Edmund Wilson. Fitzgerald definitely has his highs and lows as a prose stylist. There's this one racist scene where they are driving down a road in Los Angeles and they see a "Negro" herding some cows. He moves them across the road and they give him a quarter. It's a very sad little moment that shows how behind the times Scott was as a writer at the end. Flannery O'Connor was in his rear view about to run him over.
Adding to the general confusion of this horrendous adaptation is Kelsey Grammer. In The Last Tycoon, he gets tons of screen time and looks so much heavier than he ever did. This neither suits him or the role he is playing, and Ray's writing for all his characters is a messy cross between the snappy dialogue in a Billy Wilder movie and some approximation of reality. In comparison to Bomer, who it seems may disappear if he is viewed from the wrong angle, Grammer looks like the obese girl from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in her final form.
As a representation of the period, The Last Tycoon is tremulously bad. Bomer's character is super-depressed because his Irish wife died, so he submerges his grief into his work. Ray wants us to think that Monroe Stahr is really good at his job. Actually, he is only terrific at motivating and manipulating people as a Don Draper-clone, and Scott's story shows how much they resent it and how little there is left of a person who behaves in this fashion. The odd, vaguely homoerotic glorification of this Jewish character is not only a historical abortion, but it feels like a lie on every level.
I was completely certain when I first read The Love of the Last Tycoon and now watching this latest disaster from the inimitably bad Amazon Studios brand that neither Billy Ray nor Scott Fitzgerald has any idea what it is like to be a Jew. At least Scott's novel admits that, in a way, positioning Monroe as fundamentally misunderstood.
In Ray's version of The Last Tycoon, there is actually a scene where Bomer is sobbing like a little girl over his deceased Irish wife. He explains to everyone who will listen that he wants to make an inspirational version of her story. Such a person who came from nothing would never elevate his own experience above any other? Billy Ray doesn't understand any of these people, and the visual look on offer completely absconds with any semblance of truthtelling.
That is what is so profoundly offensive about The Last Tycoon. Telling a story about any ethnic minority and lying about the particulars should face harsh sanctions. If Wesley Snipes went to jail, so should everyone involved in this piece of shit, especially Lily Collins. The fact that Amazon has so little faith in their decision-making on individual series that they feel the need to greenlight so many awful pilots proves how little confidence they have in their product.
There is one astonishing scene in the abridged version of The Love of the Last Tycoon that I will never forget. The woman who will eventually become Lily Collins is talking about her father, and how she had no real conception of how he appeared to others. Then she is at a bar and a man approaches, looming near here in a sort of mourning avidity. She wishes for him to move on until it occurs to her that this is her papa. As in all Fitzgerald, this metaphor of a single moment represents the whole fucking situation completely.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.