Ambivalent, strictly disappointed, and yet somewhat defensive.
This is the oxymoronic relationship that I, as well as many others, have with Baz Luhrman’s “The Great Gatsby.”
When it was first announced that Luhrman would be taking on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel of the same name everyone was thrilled. We could see it already, the splendor of the Moulin Rouge shows brought to West Egg! Vibrant red colors! Gatsby’s love intertwined literally with matters of life or death!
Gatsby was so Baz, and Baz was so Gatsby.
His signature movies (Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge!) are exclamation marks. If isn’t an epic in your face party then it isn’t Baz. But the overwhelming nature of his films is what makes our eyes dazzle.
However, just as Gatsby’s dreams were too big to be satisfied by reality, our hopes for Luhrman’s revamped version of The Great Gatsby were similarly dashed.
Luhrman seemed to be unsure about his artistic choices. It was as if he didn’t know whether he wanted to go all-out or keep true to Fitzgerald’s novel. This was especially apparent during Gatsby’s parties, which was one of the most highly anticipated parts of the film. While there were bits of craziness here and there, it could have been more. I wanted those flapper dresses to invade my on-screen personal space like the can-can dancers did in Moulin Rouge! Sure, the moment with the fireworks was pretty, but I wanted to be wow-ed. I felt like this could have been easily achieved by turning up the music to full blast.
This is another area that frustrated me to no end. Baz, it is universally accepted fact that your soundtrack for this movie is amazing. Why not use it?
Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” gave me chills the first time I listened to it. I put Florence + The Machine’s “Over The Love” on repeat for a good few weeks. Yet, the song only makes brief low-key appearance over a piano sung by some random woman. Luhrman’s movies usually have the unique ability to successfully transcend modern music back in time. This time was an exception. Which is unfortunate, because I was so looking forward to loving Jay-Z and Kanye as much in the twenties as in the two thousands.
Last, the Gatsby cast was either seriously lacking complexity or overcomplicated. Nick Carraway, played by Tobey Maguire was definitely the former. While the character of Nick is meant to be bright-eyed, naive, and somewhat dull, the only thing that came across was dull. Tobey Maguire’s face looked like it was plastered with one expression the entire time: wide-eyed and dumbfounded with the occasional head turn (you know what I’m talking about).
On the other hand, Daisy’s character, played by Carrie Mulligan, was too multidimensional. Rather than being superficial as she was in the novel, Daisy made us believe that she was truly in love with Gatsby. So much so that it was out of character for her when she decided to up and leave Gatsby at the end of the film. Though, this is th screenwriter
Of the entire ensemble, only Gatsby himself, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, was exceptional. One of the best scenes was undoubtedly when Gatsby was waiting for Daisy at Nick’s house. Standing in the rain. Bouquets of flowers. Constantly checking for the time. DiCaprio depicted the nervous feeling of meeting an old lover perfectly.
However, DiCaprio’s performance was not enough to save The Great Gatsby. The misuse of music, Luhrman’s indecisiveness in artistic direction, and the misguided acting and characterization made the movie both slow (a criticism I never thought I would be giving to Baz) and confusing on the emotional front.
I walked out of the theater feeling ambivalent because the movie was so flat most of the time that I felt indifferent towards it. Yet, there were moments of perfection with DiCaprio, and moments where perfection could have been reached with a little bit more music and a little bit more Baz.
And that’s what makes The Great Gatsby most disappointing and makes me most defensive about it. Luhrman had all the right elements: gorgeous cinematography, riveting music, and a mostly fantastic cast. Looking at these individual pieces prompts me to continue worshipping Luhrman and say to Gatsby-haters, “But deconstructed, this movie is amazing!”
Of course, things don’t work that way. So, unfortunately I have to say that as a whole while The Great Gatsby was not bad, it was not great either. It was simply ‘meh’.
Verdict: Luhrman sees the green light, but fails to touch it.