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Review: The Great Gatsby

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Note: This is a largely spoiler-free review. That said, read at your own risk.

The Great Gatsby is one of those film adaptations that made me jump up and down excitedly upon first hearing about it and then, approximately twenty seconds later, feel absolutely nauseated. This is the problem with adapting a piece of truly iconic literature; Fitzgerald’s novel is so perfect in its original form that it’s hard to imagine any other media could properly do it justice. In fact, this has been attempted on three previous occasions without any real success. Now it has been done a fourth time.

After seeing Baz Luhrmann’s film, contemplating it thoroughly, wanting desperately to love it and feeling saddened that I simply cannot, I have come back to my original feeling–no other media can truly capture the magic of The Great Gatsby

The entire first half of the film amounted to Baz Luhrmann showing off as a director. This would be fine if his intent was to showcase the story at its fullest potential, but what is created is more akin to him standing on the rooftop of a large building screaming “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT WHAT I CAN DO!” It has all of the over-the-top visuals, sweeping shots, and half-dressed women you would expect of a Luhrmann film. In fact, with the aspiring writer in the middle of an emotional breakdown, the star-crossed, obsessive love, and the shadiness of most of the characters, you may momentarily wonder if you’re watching Moulin Rouge 2 (though without the same quirky charm). Gatsby is all about style, seriously sacrificing some substance so that Luhrmann can have once more dance number full of confetti and fringe.

There’s no denying that Gatsby stars some heavy-hitting actors, if only in name. Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan should be a brilliant Gatsby-Daisy duo. Tobey Maguire should be the perfect everyman to be narrator Nick Carraway. However, for the most part the three main actors and indeed the rest of the cast come off as caricatures. There is something reminiscent of a school play where there is disconnect between actor and script that reeks of either apathy or laziness. DiCaprio does redeem himself in the latter portions of the film in which he displays Gatsby’s growing obsession and eventual breakdown beautifully.

The film is also marred by a distinct overuse of voice overs, with Tobey Maguire reciting passages from the book word for word and at times explaining things to the audience. It feels as if Luhrmann didn’t trust his viewer to follow what was going on. Paired with a soundtrack that doesn’t always mesh well with the story (Jay-Z, what were you doing?), the audio portion of the film is just as ridiculous as the visuals.

The latest adaptation of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece amounts to nothing but spectacle. Even the more subdued and far more successful second half cannot fully save the train wreck that is the first half. The beauty of the novel is in its subtleties, the quiet moments that happen with the roar of the music as just a faint whisper in the background. There is nothing subtle about this adaptation, making it feel juvenile. Its overuse of visual effects and an anachronistic soundtrack reveal a blatant attempt to appeal to the video game generation, or at least the stereotypes associated with it. There are definitely video games that are more successful on a narrative level than this film.

In the end, I felt much like Gatsby. I desperately tried to grasp onto the thing I love while watching it slip through my fingers and become nothing more than a faint green light in the distance before it was extinguished entirely. Luhrmann may be a genius who created a fantastically meta adaptation in which the audience will walk out laughing at the absurdity and futility of it all, how in the end it all means nothing. Or, Luhrmann may simply be another egotistical Hollywood director who squashed out the beauty of the narrative and the talent of his cast in order to achieve his vision, which falls horribly short.

I’m inclined to believe the latter.

That being said, most audiences will enjoy this film. It’s entertaining. It’s visually pleasing. It’s over-the-top. But for those who have loved the novel as I have, be prepared for disappointment.

Author: Critique Geek

Writer and dreamer with a BA in Sarcasm. All-around nerd and lover of geeky things.

8 thoughts on “Review: The Great Gatsby

  1. I am still debating whether or not I am going to see this tonight. I hope it is good, as I am a huge Leonardo DiCaprio fan.

  2. Wait. I am confused, genuinely confused. Why… why would Jay-Z have ANYTHING at all to do with the soundtrack of a movie set in the 1920s? Is there some kind of mysterious time machine behind the scenes that was never revealed? What? WHY?

    Loki doesn’t likey.

    • Historical accuracy wasn’t necessarily a huge concern of the film. Unless it was intentional. I mean, maybe Jordan was just SO progressive she skipped the 20′s and went straight to the 30′s as far as wardrobe goes.

    • Luhrmann’s entire mode of creative thought boils down to the phrase “PEOPLE IN THE PRESENT AREN’T ALL THAT DIFFERENT TO PEOPLE IN THE PAST” and in the two films of his that I’ve seen prior to this, Moulin Rogue! and Romeo + Juliet, that has been the predominant theme. In the case of the former all of the unsubtle headbashing about that particular concept is done through music, something he replicated in Gatsby.

      As well as that he was probably trying to liken the opulence and absurdity of the roaring 20′s to the current malaise of excess that surrounds artists like Jay-Z and the lifestyle that they engage in. Though come to think of it I might just be giving Baz far too much credit, and he just used Jay-Z because “he speaks to the generation of kids today in a way that Fitzgerald tried to in Gatsby”.

      I strongly disliked this film, even without thinking all that much about the book itself, if only because it was completely unnecessary to shoot it in 3D. That sort of ridiculous attempt to force as much money out of people as possible is a bad road to start going down.

    • He thought it was the Jay-Z era, not the Jazz era.

      Chortle chortle chortle.

  3. Solid review. It’s one of those instances when style overcomes substance. Just a shame that it had to be this adaptation too.

  4. I really want to see this movie. I’m in love with the ’20s. I adored the book whenever we read it in class. That being said, upon seeing the previews, I’m highly skeptical on how well the adaptation is going to be. Like you said, there is a lot of flash that I don’t remember being in the book. (It has been years since I read the book and will hopefully reread it before seeing the movie.)
    In my opinion, DiCaprio plays breakdown scenes very well. I only hope that he plays Gatsby’s break down as well, or better than, as he has others.
    I have to say though, the mention of Jay-Z being in the soundtrack of this movie is somewhat of a let down. I was really hoping that the soundtrack would stay as trues as possible to the era that this is taking place.
    I thank you for the review. You ladies have definitely made me that much more curious to watch this movie. I only hope that it lives up to my expectations.

  5. I just saw the “Gatsby” remake last Saturday, and upon leaving the theatre, I remember feeling uber-saturated with all the kaleidoscopic visuals and full-scale glitz overlapping one another unabashedly. Frankly, I don’t think anyone could’ve seen it without getting a retinal sugar rush! What with having the original flick still pretty freshly preserved in mind, having seen it twice, the unavoidable but necessary side-by-side “comparison” rears its ugly head, but its a comparison I never thought I’d be so glad to visit.

    The original ’74 movie struck me as being more genuine, more solid, more heartfelt, and more authentic somehow, owing much, I suspect, to the classic “vintage” veneer it has been cocooned in. But it’s much more than that too; the ’74 flick was done in a period where showiness and flash in the vulgar sense was still uncharted; where the vanity, yet diluted with austere and sober elegance, was achieved with smartness and grace. To boot, the characters in the Coppola penned version felt more developed, more authentic. I just feel like going on record, flat out, saying that my heart didn’t break as much seeing this new one as it did with the original. It’s just, pardon my french, too damn much gaudiness and vaudevillian!

    While somewhat reluctantly appreciating the necessity of making this kind of film so as to be “kept in step” with modern contemporary filmmaking and hip, SFX-infatuated audiences (btw, what’s up with the soundtrack?! Hip-hop in the 1920′s??)I can’t help to wonder how the movie would have played out if all the “fat” was trimmed off? A different director, perhaps? Now, it’s not very sound, perhaps, to go off on a “compare-it-down-to-a-nub” spree here; frankly it does neither film any good, but… something in my heart just goes all weepy and nostalgic when I think of the potent and unforgettable performances given by Redford, Farrow, Dern, and Waterston.

    Speaking of which, after seeing one of my favorite movies “Sophie’s Choice” not long ago, I noticed there was something of a “Nick Carraway” aura hanging over Peter Macnicol’s “Stingo” character. Both were “green” and uninitiated into life’s vast and many domains. More importantly, Stingo was too, cast in the mold of the pensive, soberminded, slightly melancholic, loyal, and kindhearted observer, who ringside-witnessed grand consummate love affairs unfolding before his very eyes before becoming complicit to the “drama” as well.

    All in all, I’m glad I saw the movie; it was quite a feast for the senses; orgiastic, slathered with pomp, stacked with fatty melt-in-your-mouth fixings, not to mention the 3D which blew me away occasionally, need I mention the 1920′s time square sequences?! Wow!!

    But will I see it again? Don’t know… how about the ’74 original? You betcha!

    Robert F

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