affluenzaVery early on, Affluenza seems to be a pretty little movie about pretty little people doing pretty much nothing. As the film continues, a sense of nagging familiarity comes over the viewer. Finally, the answer to the question, “Where have I seen this before?” becomes apparent – and the answer hits with the same force as guessing the killer in a whodunnit.

Affluenza is a uncredited remake of The Great Gatsby with teenagers assuming the leads and the end of the era of irrational exuberance standing in for pre-depression America. Long Island is, of course, the setting, but the real town of Great Neck replaces the fictional West Egg.

Fisher Miller (Ben Rosenfield) is the outsider, the Nick Carraway character. Miller is a wannabe photographer from Ithaca, New York, who sells pot and audits courses at a university in The City that he has applied to for admission. He is staying at his uncle’s house, where he can enjoy the hedonism of life among the self-appointed elite in the pre-financial crisis 2000’s (“The Noughties” as the British would say).

That puts Fisher is the same household as his first cousin, Kate Miller (Nicola Peltz), Affluenza‘s Daisy Buchanan. (Note: Daisy was Nick’s second cousin in The Great Gatsby.) Kate is an airhead of a high school senior who ‘s willing to do her own shopping, but insists that her parents take care of the store returns. She’s too young to be married, so the stand-in for Tom Buchanan here is her boyfriend, Todd Goodman (Grant Gustin).

That leaves Dylan Carson (Gregg Sulkin) as Jay Gatsby. Dylan is introduced in the film in the same exact way that Gatsby is introduced in the book – as the host of an opulent lawn party at his home. Dylan lives with his mommy and stepdaddy, however, and therein lies the central problem in having teenagers perform The Great Gatsby: they are too young. The vapid youth in Affluenza lack the maturity and sense of gravitas necessary to convey the tragedy in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. At times, the movie feels like Bugsy Malone, the 1976 gangster movie made with a cast entirely of children.

Affluenza has adults, so we are treated to the equivalent of seeing Tom’s father have an affair with Daisy’s mother, while Daisy’s father schlepps off to Wall Street to see his portfolio and manhood both shrink by the day. For the most part, the parents are intended as period decor, providers and enablers of a lifestyle that robs the young generation of ambition. Affluenza, the end credits tell us, is a psychological malaise supposedly affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation.

Wow, powerful stuff, except that’s what Hollywood told us was affecting middle class youth in River’s Edge (1986). There’s no sense of staking out new ground in Affluenza or shedding light on the affect of debt-based faux wealth on young people. This is a retread of familiar themes that is less effective and far less fun than Baz Luhrmann’s film from last year with Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby.

Carla Quevedo rocks it in her brief time on screen as Gail, the hostess at the country club’s restauirant who is used by the patrons and then reminded of her place before being discarded. Steve Guttenberg is almost unrecognizable as Philip Miller, Kate’s father, and he enjoys some effective moments with his nephew, Fisher. The leads struggle gamely to make the central love triangle convincing, but by the third act, all one can do is spot the Gatsbyisms: the prior relationship, the car accident, the encroaching shame and scandal that hangs over the mansion.

This one ends like Gatsby – no surprise –  with someone floating face down in a swimming pool. The scene would have allowed for a social commentary similar to that promised by the film’s title if the person discovering the body had simply sat down and smoked a joint, but, then again, that’s not how Fitzgerald wrote it.

Two stars.

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