On Thursday night, my best friend from high school and I went to see the movie event of the summer: The Great Gatsby. As an avid lover of the book, I was twitching with anticipation to see the movie. Having read The Great Gatsby at least 6 times, I have always been enamored with Fitzgerald and his poetic critique of the 1920’s. Few understand the obsessive relationship I have with Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald uses nuance and style to reveal the shallowness of wealth, while writing an engaging and soul-wrenching story. Swoon.
Can a movie possibly live up to this?
Well, not really. As outlined in scathing reviews, Baz Luhrmann tries to capture the whole of Fitzgerald’s greatest work and he misses some big opportunities. The film fumbles around in the first 20 minutes, but gains its bearings and does pack a real punch by the final scene. I mean, the last 10-15 minutes are are knock-out. He really wins in the smaller, more intimate scenes when DiCaprio, Maguire, and Mulligan are given an opportunity to shine. When he scales back on the in-your-face effects or “razzle dazzle,” the actors capture the audience and Luhrmann really does justice to an exceptional novel.
Carrie Mulligan enters the film with a light, airy laugh that instantly reminds the viewer of the ethereal Daisy in the novel. Her voice and flighty mannerisms are true to Fitzgerald’s character. Mulligan artistically captures Daisy’s vapid carelessness. She floats around the screen and the viewer falls hopelessly in love with her just as Gatsby does. Perfection. She is absoute perfection.
Speaking of Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio is the perfect actor for the role. He has the stunning and magnetic “Gatsby smile” and creates an accessible and loveable version of Gatsby. He is the mysterious lost boy, whose only hope in the world is winning his Daisy. Just as if you were reading the novel, your heart breaks for Leo’s rendering of Gatsby. His performance is Oscar-worthy. No doubt. He skillfully manages an iconic character full of hope and desperate longing. It’s a little hard to describe, I must admit. Just go watch it. You’ll understand what I’m talking about.
I was initially apprehensive about Toby Maguire playing Nick Carraway, but was pleasantly surprised. Carraway is often understood to be Fitzgerald writing himself into the novel, which Luhrmann clearly emphasizes. In his sweaters, brown 3-piece suits, and bow ties, Maguire is the spitting image of Fitzgerald himself. He shines as the level-headed Nick opposite Gatsby’s flamboyance and baffling hopefulness.
The soundtrack is exceptionally well-crafted and a great collaboration when heard independent of the film. However, it’s clumsily integrated and feels out of place in a movie about the iconic “Jazz Age.” I was caught off-guard by characters doing the Charleston to will.i.am’s “Bang Bang,” a catchy hip-hop tune with a few brass horns. Definitely a modern interpretation there. However, the ballads on the soundtrack genuinely capture some of the book’s main themes. Florence + the Machine’s “Over the Love” is a heartbreaking ballad that is grossly misused in the film. The song captures the very essence of the novel, but is mainly used in the movie’s trailers. Humph. Instead, Luhrmann focuses on Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” as his centerpiece for the film. The song speaks to themes in the novel, and even some of Fitzgerald’s other works (ie. Tender is the Night and The Beautiful and Damned), which I did appreciate.
The collaboration with Brooks Brothers was a resounding success, in my opinion. I’ve really enjoyed walking by the window displays at the Brooks Brothers in Seattle for the last few weeks, heightening my anticipation. Gatsby’s white linen suit made me catch my breath. Nick’s green sweater made my heart skip a beat. The boater hats had me smiling. The costumes in the movie transported the viewer straight to the 1920’s. Every piece was loyal to the period and original novel, while creating visual character distinctions that dazzle and please the viewer. Plus, Gatsby’s pink suit…no words.
Luhrmann does an exceptional job transitioning from a first half of opulence and carefree drunkenness to a finale of tragedy, desperation, and loss of hope. It was an over-the-top period of American history, which helps to justify some of the in-your-face effects and party scenes. Luhrmann does a good job bringing the “razzle dazzle” of the 1920’s to life. There are some moments when I felt like I was reeling on some kitschy roller coaster at Disneyland. But that’s probably how people felt during a party at Gatsby’s? Or during the 1920’s? Who knows.
Luhrmann also latches onto a few key images from Fitzgerald’s novel. As someone who has read the book, I felt a bit clobbered by Lurhmann’s representation of the imagery that was so subtly weaved throughout the original novel. However, I appreciated the loyalty to the book. And, he does masterfully weave Fitzgerald’s original text throughout the movie, narrated by Maguire.
This is the most accurate review of the movie that I have read: “Those who love the book (I’m one of them) will spot moments of missed opportunity, but will also hear plenty of Fitzgerald’s words in the screenplay, and may well leave the movie feeling that something approaching justice has been done. Where ‘Gatsby’ fails, it at least does so with imagination and verve; where it succeeds, it find poetry.” -Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times
Overall, the movie was an over-the-top artistic spectacle that is redeemed through stellar acting and breathtaking costume design. I will DEFINITELY be seeing it again soon, and I recommend you do too, old sport!
Also, skip 3D. No need.