Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby starts out exactly as F. Scott Fitzgerld's stupendous, classic book -- "In my younger and more vulnerable years..." Nick Carraway, who is now apparently depressed and alcoholic stares dramatically out the snowy window, and relays his story to his doctor. The story of how he moved to West Egg, just outside NYC, into a tiny cottage squeezed between two huge mansions, one of which was always alive with wild parties and belonged to a man called Gatsby, and what happened there that summer of 1922.

Spoilers ahead, sweetie. If you haven't read the book, you shouldn't be watching this movie. Or reading this review!

The movie, also like the book is (almost) always in Nick's perspective. His doctor encourages him to write everything down, and he narrates as he does throughout the whole film. Often, ruining a moment he should be only witnessing by jumping in and whacking us over the head with the subtlety that we would apparently never understand without his helpful insight. If you beat someone to death with subtlety, is it still subtle? Tobey Maguire plays Nick, and reminded me very little of his Peter Parker, and when he wasn't smashing his "insights" over our heads, or (over) dramatically quoting the book word for word, I liked him. Still, he was too involved in the story, not a simple observer who reserves judgment. Somehow he was inserted too much into the story, but simultaneously removed, as his entire relationship with Jordan was completely cut.

Nick trying to work. He didn't spend ALL summer observing other people's drama.

Gatsby is the main guy here, obviously. Rich, mysterious, personable Jay Gatsby. Hopeful to a fault. And Leonardo DiCaprio is just as good as he should be in the role. Let me just go ahead and point out that everything in this movie is overdone, most obviously the acting, and if I can, I blame the director, not the actors. That being said, there are some very good things about DiCaprio's Gatsby, and some not-so-good things. The way he said his catchphrase, "old sport" for instance, feels unnatural. It's either because that's how the director wanted it, to emphasize that Gatsby wasn't naturally that way, or, DiCaprio just couldn't pull it off. You guessed it; I've decided to lean towards the former. In general, DiCaprio's performance is very good; he does especially well with Gatsby's mysteriousness, and the desperate way he pursues his dream. His Gatsby is also obviously a man who has worked hard to make himself appear to be someone he naturally isn't.

The mysterious Gatsby.

Now Daisy Buchanan, that beautiful, conflicted girl whose voice is probably the most perfectly described in history. I knew from the moment I saw who was playing her that if anyone could do her justice, it was her; Carey Mulligan. Not only does she fit the part physically, but her voice seems to naturally be exactly what Fitzgerald heard as he wrote those lines about murmuring, music and money. One thing I didn't consider though was the character, and after the movie was over, I realized that Mulligan's Daisy was too likable. I shouldn't be surprised, it's very hard to make Carey Mulligan dislikable, and I doubt that Luhrmann wanted to make her so -- who'd want to watch a romance between two dislikable people? At times she sounded like she was trying too hard to get the voice right, and she didn't murmur enough for me, but otherwise she was exquisite, and I still maintain that she is the perfect choice for Daisy. Luhrmann just didn't know how to use her correctly.

Beautiful Daisy.

Her husband Tom Buchanan is the main character I have the least complaints about. He is undeniably a dislikable character, and played wonderfully well by Joel Edgerton. He lends a kind of tenderness to the character that I saw in the book, and was very pleased when it not only showed in the movie, but wasn't overdone -- I credit it solely to the actor. And of course his violent, racist, and other dislikable traits were there, and done very well. The only thing concerning his character that I missed was when Nick runs into him on the street at the end and shakes his hand. I thought it was an important scene that helps give the story its conclusion, and completes the character arc of both Tom and Daisy. But hey, what do I know, right?

Tom. "One of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anti-climax."

At first I thought Tom's mistress Myrtle Wilson was strangely cast as the young, cute, sweetly voiced Isla Fisher, but she impressed when she got the chance, which was basically just her introductory scene, but still. She may not have been like I imagined her, but she got the job done admirably. Same goes for her husband George Wilson played by Jason Clarke, except his appearance was considerably more like I imagined him. I would have been happy to see both of the characters get more development, and I think it would have been good for the movie.

Myrtle makes her grand entrance as her men have a chat.

Newcomer Elizabeth Debicki plays Jordan Baker the elegant golf star and fellow observer with Nick. I thought she was a good choice for the role and really enjoyed her part, but her character seems to be the one that ended up mostly on the cutting room floor. She's really only used when needed to develop the story, or is there when she's supposed to be because the novel dictated it. And as I mentioned her and Nick's relationship was almost totally missing; it only progressed as far as it needed to, to develop Gatsby's plot, then was left hanging there uselessly, disappointingly.

Lovely. If only she could have played her part to it's potential.

Now I'm probably going to shock you, and say that I thought that Jay-Z's rap score was a very bold and surprisingly fitting move. I liked the way the cool, upbeat modern music blended with the cool, upbeat music of the twenties, it was very sharp. And speaking of sharp, the costumes! I love twenties costumes, and these, mixed with high fashion, "vintage" tends of today were particularly suave, bold and zesty. I fell in love with Jordan's lavender hat, and Gastby's wardrobe was spot-on and immaculate. Neither the score nor the costumes were truly authentic, but they fit in the style of the picture, making it more relevant to modern times, and really helped amplify the spectacle.

And what a spectacle it was. Nick never describes Gatsby's parties in the movie, (though he describes plenty of other obvious things) for one very good reason; he really doesn't need to. The parties are alive with bright colors, music, noise and people, nearly overwhelming the senses... and I didn't even see it in 3D. The problem occurs when the party is over, and a particular sequence is supposed to be mellower, but attempts to make it more upbeat and dazzling only annoy. The party in Tom and Myrtle's apartment got that treatment and was made way wilder than the book's description implied. During that scene I sat wondering what in the world was going on, hoping the rest of the movie wasn't going to be changed like it, and missing Fitzgerald's description of no one being able find each other in the thick cigarette smoke.

People party at Gatsby's place!

During other sequences, the "glitz-y treatment" results in some weird, distracting computer effects, like flash-backs appearing in the clouds, or Nick speaking lines as they appear in the falling snowflakes. It really snaps you out of the experience. So while they're putting text on the screen, they might as well have put some in flashing red that proclaims "THIS PART IS STRAIGHT FROM THE BOOK" because someone was obviously very proud of the fact, (whenever it was a fact) and it's already being screamed out as loudly as subtext can be -- just go the extra step, and it'll even be ironic!

This Gatsby is soaring in glamorous fashion and overflowing with unique style, but the only way it's like the book is that it's literally (word for word) like the book! Practically everything happens, yet almost nothing is right. Where are the intricacies and subtleties, the real life, the laid back humor, and the wonder? Gatsby and Daisy's over-the-top romance take precedence over everything that really resonates and makes you think when it's all over. Just before Gatsby dies, and falls slow-mo into his pool, he whispers, "Daisy" and words appear on the screen one last time -- "You can start crying now." (Okay, not that last part) Gatsby was obsessed with Daisy, but if we know better, we then begin to miss everything that was brushed aside for some pointless tragic romance. And in that last glimpse of his handsome face floating under digital water, there is no realism; no grim epiphany that Gatsby wasted his life chasing that dream that was already behind him, and died carelessly, alone and friendless; nothing more than a briefly dazzling carnival attraction. That's what this movie is too -- a two-hour showcase of digital beauty, fireworks and parties, and romance. A dazzling, hollow shell.

It's hard to live up to such standards as Fiztgerald set, and this movie does get it half exceptionally right, with its near-flawless cast, and breath-taking sets. I also give them the credit of at least attempting to capture the complexities of the novel, but I've come to the conclusion that The Great Gatsby is just an un-filmable book. What would the book be anyway, without "Carraway's" thoughts and observations, and our unlimited access to his mind? But including them in the movies is next to impossible. Nothing has worked yet, but so far Luhrmann has put in the best attempt. When it wasn't bothering me, I enjoyed it, and if the title wasn't The Great Gatsby, I would dismiss it satisfied, as an incredibly dazzling, slightly depressing film.

Number 7!


  1. I almost got to see this on Sunday night, but it was sold out. I'm curious... do you like Luhrmann's other movies?

    1. No, actually I haven't seen any of his other movies... besides some bits of Australia, which I would like to see someday. He seems to have a very unique style.

    2. Aha, I thought as much. Over-the-top is a Luhrmann thing, except for in Australia, which is much more traditional. He has a very, very interesting style, but subtle is not a word I'd associate with most of his movies.

      Random other comment: I thought that Gatsby's "Old Sport" was really affected and got tiresome in the book, so I'm not surprised to hear it was the same in the movie.

    3. yeah, I'd heard of his style, so I was expecting it to be over the top, and was prepared to be slightly disappointed. His style just doesn't fit the story.

      I agree that the "old sport" got tiresome in the book, but I imagined that he'd said it SO much that it actually came naturally to him. DiCaprio didn't sound natural... but it's a very small complaint.

  2. As usual, your review is so much more awesome than mine that I simply want to go delete everything I wrote and simply have a link to your review. "Practically everything happens, yet almost nothing is right." That's EXACTLY what I wanted to say with my torturous rambling. ;) Great review!

  3. I really enjoyed reading your review! Usually I prefer subtlety, but I think the lack of subtlety in The Great Gatsby (2013) mirrored the book it's based on, as in my opinion F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel was not subtle either. I don't think The Great Gatsby 2013 is a traditional kind of movie. It's so immersed in the book that it becomes a celebration of the book, and less of a normal kind of movie.

    I like Gatsby's saying "old sport". I personally thought Leo DiCaprio did a great job delivering that line.

  4. Thanks! I don't know, I found a lot of subtlety in the book -- not so much in what happened, but in what you take away from it as an individual. That's why I think The Great Gatsby is a very personal story... which is why I have no opinion on if anyone should like the movie or not, I just know it's not MY Great Gatsby... but the cast is. ;)

    "It's so immersed in the book that it becomes a celebration of the book..."
    I agree, but I don't see it in a positive light... to me, the movie spent so much time glorifying the book's romance and symbolism that they forgot to actually tell the story. It never showed the truth about human nature, and the parties were there with all their glamor, but the point was never made at the end that the wealth and parties got Gatsby nothing. I just never saw the gritty side, and that was my favorite part of the book. I appreciate that it wasn't a "normal" movie, but sadly, as I said, it's not my Gatsby.