Arts movie review

Parties, cars, and careless people

Luhrmann upgrades (or should we say tampers with?) Fitzgerald’s classic

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Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby dances with Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan.
Warner Bros. Pictures
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Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan.
Matt Hart


The Great Gatsby

Directed by Baz Luhrmann

Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, and Elizabeth Debicki.

Rated PG-13

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Let’s start with the pros. When I first saw trailers last year, I was offended by the choice of music. Yet, to my surprise, the music’s unexpectedness blends well with director Baz Luhrmann’s fantastical take on the story. In the elaborate party scenes, the hip-hop music by Jay-Z matches the craze, while also giving it a dimension of modernity. In another scene, a jazzy rendition of Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” undoubtedly entertained the younger audience members. The best parts of the soundtrack, however, are the mash-ups of old and new. Motifs from Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” are used a few times in the film, and once it is blended with Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” The soundtrack strategically pulls in the younger audience while tying in the classics for more seasoned moviegoers.

I unfortunately didn’t prepare myself for a 3D movie and knew that it would be an unnecessary spectacle once I realized it was. Some of the more fantastical scenes benefit from the 3D aspect, but the overuse of floating crap all over the screen (confetti, snow, fireflies, etc.) gets old really fast. Luhrmann even had the audacity to have floating words on the screen. Close-ups of the actors were extremely distracting because the screen limits the frame, and 3D makes it seem like that part of the head is missing. However, a flashback to Gatsby’s past, which resembles works by Dorothea Lange, and a view of Manhattan that references Hitchcock’s Rear Window, were breathtaking. In addition, the cartoonish makeup and costumes serve to express the debauchery of the time.

Ah, the acting. Of course we could only expect overwrought, contrived performances from all the actors thanks to Luhrmann’s directing. In some scenes, the acting style matches the grandiosity of the visuals. However, the “turn around and dramatically move your gaze up to meet the camera” move was used one too many times. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby was not as aloof as I had hoped, but his spectrum of emotions sufficed. Similarly, Carey Mulligan’s Daisy was a little too frivolous for my taste, but compared to all the other Hollywood actresses who auditioned for the part (although Michelle Williams would’ve been interesting), she was a solid choice. Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan was my favorite character; he brought just the right amount of exaggeration to his performance, while still being semi-realistic. Newcomer Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker worked, while Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson did not. Finally, I didn’t hate Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway, but some moments were definitely meme-worthy (and not in a good way).

I did get goosebumps a few times throughout the film. When we first hear Daisy giggling amidst billowing white curtains and then see her pop up and gaze longingly at us, it is indisputably beautiful. Likewise, Gatsby throwing scarves and clothes down from his wardrobe toward Daisy was a scene that would not have been as effective without 3D. And the flashing green light was mesmerizing. Some of the iconic lines — like “I hope she’ll be a fool” and “they’re a rotten crowd, you’re worth the whole bunch” — were delivered effortlessly and did the novel justice. Sadly, the ostentatiousness of the film proved to be too much for my taste, and, while I appreciated Luhrmann’s imagination, this is not how I wanted the story to be told.

Lurhmann proved that he can put on a big show, but he can’t take credit for the story, or for the work done on the graphics. He can only take credit for the actors’ performances, which were distasteful overall. The music was a valiant effort at making the film revolutionary, but it only succeeded as a standalone soundtrack. It is understandable that he wanted to make a version of the story that is so unexpected that it would perhaps be beyond reproach. But such a great American novel should not be tampered with.

1 Comment
Jaimie Chung almost 11 years ago

correction in the last paragraph: "He can take credit for the actors performances, which were distasteful overall." (deleting "only")