I Saw A Film Today… The Great Gatsby

gatsbymidmarIt was only a few months ago that I finally read Fitzgerald’s classic novel about a mysterious fellow named Jay Gatsby. While I found his tale a little bland until the final act, which can be attributed to the story’s age and its numerous copycats, it is unmistakable how great a writer Fitzgerald is. I was enamored with his storytelling. So I was excited when I learned about a big budget film adaptation. But that excitement was quickly replaced with sadness when I learned Baz Luhrmann was behind the wheel. And that sadness was replaced with boredom as I sat in the theater.

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a recent Yale graduate who is trying his hand at bonds in New York City. He moves into a little home dwarfed by the towering mansion of his rich neighbor. After a while, Nick is invited to one of his neighbors decadent parties personally where he finally meets the man named Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Gatsby becomes friends with Nick, but for ulterior reasons. Gatsby fell in love with Nick’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) years ago before he left for the war, and wants Nick to help set up a meeting between the two long-lost lovers. When the two are finally reunited, they fall madly in love again. The only things standing in between them being together is Daisy’s brutish husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), who is having his own affair with a poor mechanic’s wife (Jason Clarke and Isla Fisher).

If F. Scott Fitzgerald had been alive to see this adaptation of his classic novel, I’m pretty sure a quarter of the way into the film he would have gone on a bender of Gin Rickey’s until he drank himself into a coffin. Baz Luhrmann took a classic story that is entertaining and lively on its own and somehow made it extremely boring. I checked my watch for the first time in the night and was astonished to find that the movie had only been playing for a mere fifteen minutes. And that included the two previews before the film itself. That wasn’t the last time I checked my watch either. Two hours is a long time made only longer by a dragging film.

I read or heard somewhere that Luhrmann decided on the soundtrack of this film because of some nonsense about Fitzgerald including jazz in his book, so he decided to incorporate hip-hop in his film. The result is laughable though. Jazz music would have made sense in a scene taking place in a speakeasy with black dancers. It was the music of the era. Instead you get a hip-hop track by someone named Q-Tip over black dancers twerking. But what was worse was the bloody terrible cover songs. Beyonce taking on a Amy Winehouse tune? Almost criminal. Modernizing something isn’t always bad as long as what you’re updating warrants updating, which Gatsby doesn’t.

The one thing that can be said about Luhrmann’s bastardization is that it does have a grand scope with grand visuals. But these visuals were created with dated CGI technology that, compared with the other blockbusters in the last few years, looks like it was made with Microsoft Paint on a Dell computer. I’m sure these moments of floating letters and sweeping digital zooms really pop in 3-D, but in standard definition it falls flat and feels amateurish.

The cast is pretty decent though. Not what I would call DiCaprio at his best, nor at his worst. Sure, he inhabits the aurora of Gatsby well, but there was something off that I can’t place my finger on. Maybe the fluctuation in his accent or his body language. But Tobey Maguire was exactly how I predicted him to be: annoying. There’s just something exhausting about every role he takes. Something that makes you sigh tiredly. Carey Mulligan is great though. She is one of the few characters from the film that actually matches the character from the book, or at least met my expectations. The other would be Edgerton’s sly bully version of Tom. His is a true brute and manipulator.

There is not much to like about Luhrmann’s adaptation. Quite frankly it’s a goofy mess from the very beginning. Gatsby is a rich story with a unique, albeit glamourized, view of the Roaring Twenties. But instead Luhrmann produces a film with a drawn out story that is overshadowed by mediocre visuals.

Verdict: Skip it!

*Rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying, and brief language. 143 minutes. Directed by Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge).

** Poster by Midnight Marauder.

*** Thanks to my friend Cody for trudging through this film with me.

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2 Responses to “I Saw A Film Today… The Great Gatsby”

  1. That was a quick write-up!

    • Kevin Entrekin Says:

      Yeah, it really helps when I don’t have the tele on or Tumblr opened on the next tab haha.

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