Runtime: 2 HR 23 MIN
Director: Baz Luhrman
Writers: Baz Luhrman, Craig Pearce, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Debicki
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald has been adapted many times on both the small and the big screen. In high school I struggled to finish the book due to boredom, then struggled to finish the movie for the same reason when I attempted to take the easy way out in English class. Suffice it to say I failed, but now almost fifteen years later I finally made it through an adaption of The Great Gatsby… Baz Luhrman’s vision of The Great Gatsby.
Nick Carraway, a recent Yale graduate has moved into a small cottage outside of New York City right next door to the mysterious Jay Gatsby. Known for his lavish parties Gatsby takes an interest in Nick and they quickly become friends. Gatsby’s real motive soon becomes clear as he is desperate to have a meeting with Nick’s cousin Daisy, who lives across the bay with her old money husband. This seemingly harmless meeting sets in motion events that will affect all their lives forever.
Not being a fan of the original source material or any of its adaptations my enthusiasm was tempered for The Great Gatsby. There are many that count the novel by Fitzgerald as an American classic- I am obviously not one of them, only its director and cast peeked my interest. Sadly this adaptation doesn’t fare much better than its predecessors.
*The advance screening I attended for The Great Gatsby was marred by projection issues including a dark bulb, washed out colors and was out of focus. The problems were not able to be corrected so while I assume the film looked amazing I am mainly basing that assumption on the film’s 2D and 3D trailers. The presentation issues did not negatively affect this film’s rating.
Visually and stylistically The Great Gatsby is, as expected, a triumph. Baz Luhrman knows how to put together an impressive looking film full of energy that brings the fast and loose lifestyle of the ‘roaring twenties’ to life. The first act flows by with a manic elegance but its energy begins to become bogged down in the melodrama that‘s at the heart of the story. The end result is an extremely well cast, fabulous looking, big screen soap opera.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Gatsby with a cracked façade of confidence while Toby Maguire plays Nick Carraway with the same ease that he showed in another period piece, The Cider House Rules. Both are more than up to the task of portraying their respective characters but one actress steals the show out from under them, the meek and mousy Carey Mulligan. A relative newcomer by comparison to most of the cast Mulligan excretes money, class, confliction and guilt from every pore. Daisy isn’t The Great Gatsby’s most exciting or memorable character but she is the one that slips most naturally into its world.
The Great Gatsby has two major issues working against it. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s a 1920’s soap opera featuring the privileged and rich. It’s a predictable melodrama with very high production values but is essentially nothing more. More damning is its unmistakable similarities with not only with Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet but even more so with Moulin Rouge. The story structure and themes fall right in line with that of Moulin Rouge right down to the subplot of a character recounting his story by writing a manuscript.
Amazing musical choices usually go hand in hand with a Baz Luhrman film but even that aspect of The Great Gatsby isn’t entirely successful. Covers and original music by Jay-Z, Beyoncé, André 3000, will.i.am, Fergie, Jack White and Lana Del Rey make less than half of the film’s many tracks. Produced by Jay-Z and Anton Monsted, they attempt to merge 20’s jazz with modern hip-hop. There are some successes but overall the juxtaposition doesn’t sync well with the rest of the film.
Baz Luhrman has created another beautiful film filled with fantastic energy and imagery. Unfortunately, The Great Gatsby, despite its impressive cast and fantastic look, becomes a chore to sit through rather quickly as it becomes increasingly more steeped in dull melodrama. It’s hard to dismiss the effort put into The Great Gatsby but it’s too hard to overlook its problems.