Since Gatsby actually came out before Star Trek, I probably should have covered it first. However, I get the feeling that more people have had the chance to catch it now, so I don’t feel bad having a spoilerrific piece. With that in mind, let’s begin:
The Great Gatsby (2013)
I’m not the biggest Luhrmann fan. I liked his version of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge was alright, I guess, but I find the guy to be a bit too impressed with himself. How can I say this about a man I’ve never met? Well, I’m on the Internet for one, where anyone can say anything about anyone else and it’s apparently fine, but secondly and more importantly, I can just feel it from his work. It’s the same thing I get from Guy Ritchie. They’re all style and no substance. Here’s the kicker- their styles aren’t even that decent. They think they’re being all meaningful and deep, but actually adhere to student film hallmarks when it comes to symbolism and being a no-nothing pretentious twunt. As for the source novel, I have read it, but it’s been goddamn years since. I enjoyed it and I remember the salient points, but I’m hardly a supermegafan. Anyway, let’s take a hopefully ilLUHRMANNating gander at Da Sick Gatz, innit:
“I knew it was a great mistake for a man like me to fall in love.”
The Great Gatsby is based on the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It follows Nick Carraway ( Tobey Maguire), a rookie bond salesman, as he sets up a life for himself New York, renting a small house in the (sadly fictional) Long Island village of West Egg. His humble home happens to be next door to the huge estate of mysterious rich man and apparent recluse, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) who throws countless lavish parties for the rich and famous in his mansion. Across the way in East Egg is Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton). Everything’s pretty normal until one day when Nick gets a formal invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties. The story is a school-studied classic and rightly so. It’s a tale full of excess, decadence, tragedy and love. I’m not going to start picking it apart, am I? What I can have a go at is the weird framing device that’s used in the film where Carraway is checked in to a rehab centre for alcohol addiction and exhaustion. He then recounts his tale as part of his therapy. It works, but I’m not sure it was entirely needed. The cast are a mixed bag. Tobey Maguire is merely OK as Nick. He’s hardly Mr. Charisma, but then he isn’t supposed to be. However, listening to hours of his particular brand of perpetually pubescent narration may grate. DiCapriSun is decent, but that’s no surprise. My only problem with him was the way he said Gatsby’s famous phrase “old sport”. To me, it kept sounding like he was calling Carraway “Old Spore” and it bugged the fuck out of me. What is a surprise is how flat ol’ Mary Chulligan’s Daisy is. It’s not her fault though, she’s a fantastic actress in other things, just not paid much heed here. I remember people writing entire papers on how complex Daisy Buchanan was in the novel. You’d struggle to fill a postage stamp with what you learn about her from the film. The one part I think was absolutely nailed was the boorish, cheatin’ Tom Buchanan. Joel Edgerton does a great job and is pretty much how I imagined the character to be.
I think the first question most people will be looking to answer for themselves is whether the film is faithful to the novel. Well, to my mind at least, it is and it isn’t. Outside of the odd framing device, the film sticks pretty damn closely to the text. Every key moment and bit of dialogue that I could remember was present and correct. It even goes so far as having some of the text appear on the screen in an “arty” (read: stupid) kind of way. The film certainly captures the spirit of the Roaring Twenties, with booze filled parties and flapperism. Where it steers away from the novel is in the exploration of deeper themes. It’s a shallow film, confident with visual flair and glamour, but not really able to touch on anything with any meaning. It’s merely a bunch of glitzy stuff that happens. That’s not to say there isn’t some value in that. The visuals are the best thing about the film, with Gatsby’s parties a massive highlight. I liked seeing the Valley of Ashes brought to life too.
Pre-release much had been made of the film’s soundtrack and Luhrmann’s decision to forgo period music for contemporary hip-hop. In theory, I was on board. Nothing encapsulates the world of drug-fuelled excess more than modern hip-hop, so I was with ol’ Baz. In practice, it ain’t all that. It just looks like a massively expensive pop video for the most part. In addition, there are a few period covers of songs like “Back to Black” but again, it’s not that impressive. To be honest, Django Unchained did a better job of meshing rap to its 19th century setting and Bioshock Infinite showed how anachronistic covers of songs should be done. I’m sure it’ll seem like “genius” to some people, but then some people are fucking thick.
“My life…my life has to be like this. It has to keep going up.”
Gatsby‘s a passable experience. I would say I enjoyed it, but once I got past the trappings of the shiny, shiny visuals, I found myself wanting something more significant. It’s not without its charms, but it’s a rather colloquial take on the novel. More importantly, it doesn’t do enough to justify its own existence. The Redford version is better.