I hate Leonardo DiCaprio. Never met him. He’s probably a perfectly nice guy. As far as I know, he has not murdered anyone, cursed out children, clubbed any baby seals, stiffed a bartender on a tip. He doesn’t even belong to a bullshit celebrity religion, or have kids he gave bullshit names. Some of his movies are OK. Some of his portrayals are even OK — Romeo, as a character, is sort of a bag of dicks sap anyway (it’s all about Mercutio), so in Romeo + Juliet, he made a solid Romeo. But to me his face has always been among the planet’s most punchable. This is my irrational grudge, and everyone should have one.
Most people have their crushes — harmless outlets to project unrealistic and groundless buzz onto. Ditto you should adopt a pop culture nemesis. A harmless, arbitrary enemy lets you feel the burn, in a good way.
Leo’s mine. He’s just good enough that I can hate on him for not being better, and just bad enough that he keeps delivering grudge-fuel. Other folks will quibble. Popular hashtags have bemoaned his lack of Oscars. He’s widely considered talented and appealing. He has above-average hair. But just as Ansel Elgort is this writer’s nemesis, Leo is mine.
Why? He ruins everything in his path. Don’t believe me, just rewatch Shutter Island, Inception, and The Great Gatsby, and we’ll review.
Shutter Island was (usually solid) crime writer Dennis Lehane’s foray into scribbling out a shocking twist. Yet it was so contrived, so terrible, that I threw the book across the room when I finished it. I didn’t even throw Twilight across the room (largely because I was 12 when the first book came out and actually liked it at the time, the movies weren’t a thing yet, the crazy fans were also not a thing yet, I just dug vampires and we all let our standards lapse from time to time, ok?). Naturally, when Shutter Island was adapted for the screen, Leo starred.
Shouldn’t I be blaming Dennis Lehane? Don’t expect logic to cloud my judgement here. It was a one-time screwup from Lehane, and Leo was associated with it, and by the transitive property, it’s his fault.
Inception, too, was a disappointment. Not because it was bad — it wasn’t — but because it wasn’t as good as it could have been. Dream thievery is an amazing idea, and instead of exploring it, Inception melted down into a glorified action movie with cool effects. Wasted good ideas are even worse than bad ideas. Christopher Nolan, the writer and director, is mostly to blame. But once again, Leo starred, cementing his status as a smug enabler of cultural clutter.
This brings us to The Great Gatsby. The masterpiece of beautiful language and subtlety was never going to turn out well in the hands of Baz Luhrmann, the director whose notion of “subtlety” means a mere half-dozen song and dance numbers instead of twenty, and shiny silver stuff everywhere instead of gold. Gatsby, one of the most magnetic characters in literature, had potential even in the most garish adaptations of the book. Leo wasn’t the right man for the job anyway — Gatsby is supposed to be around 30, and sorry, but Leo just doesn’t pass for 30 anymore. Nor could he capture Gatsby’s quiet wistfulness or his undercurrent of danger. His portrayal, in all, was dadbod-soft.
Charlie Hunnam would have played him perfectly. Pacific Rim didn’t do him justice — longing, menace, and silent pain are his jam. Or Ryan Gosling. Chris Hemsworth, even! His chops in Rush and his playboy-with-pathos portrayal could have passed muster. Instead Leo turned one of the most intriguing characters in literature into a smug shouty GIF-worthy spectacle, as an English-minor Theta Delt might play Gatsby for Halloween sophomore-year.
Yes, DiCaprio has made other, finer movies. You may bring them up now, but I assure you his face remains as punchable as ever. Wolf of Wall Street? The definition of self-indulgent, on-screen midlife crisis. J. Edgar? I know you’re kidding. Titanic, did you say, when he freeze-drowns in the north Atlantic? Point ceded. That, at least, was good for a chuckle.