The Great Gatsby by Baz Lurhmann
Directed by Baz Lurhmann. Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Novel), Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce (Screenplay).
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan.
By Junior year of high school, I knew what kind of books I liked. I had a pile of historical romance and gangster novels like “The Godfather” gathered neatly and in alphabetical order in the corner of my room. Reading books for school was a chore. I didn’t care much about “Walden” and found Holden Caulfield to be a pretentious whiner. These books weren’t for me and I was resigned to a year of boring books about characters that a lower middle class, New York City public school girl could never care about.
Then we read Gatsby. I can’t say what it was about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most popular book that got me…but, I understood it. I understood why Gatsby was forever reaching for that green light. I understood his motivation. There isn’t a poor kid in the world that doesn’t believe that all they need is money to fix all their problems. All they need is money and then they will have everything they want. They’ll be happy. What’s most interesting about Gatsby and me is that while I no longer read gangster novels and barely pick up historical romance, I still love Gatsby.
When it was announced that Baz Lurhmann was going to make Gatsby it gave me pause. The director of Moulin Rouge is definitely a strange choice for such a serious piece. I guessed that Lurhmann’s Gatsby would be as much of an adaptation as his “William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.” Sure it’s Romeo & Juliet, but stylized and over the top. I was right.
First, I should make it clear that there were some scenes cut and some relationships given a smaller role. It’s a movie, not a miniseries, not everything can make it into the final cut. You all should know that already. That being said, this is a surprisingly accurate adaptation.
The movie is over the top. It is bright, filled with beautiful people and fireworks. The parties are elaborately designed and Gatsby’s house bigger and grander than I could ever imagine. That is why this movie works. Gatsby is an illusion and what better way to distract from the truth than with a spectacle for the eyes?
In Lurhmann style, everything is big. The introduction of Jay Gatsby the man, not the myth, is so overdone and loud it made me laugh, but made a strange kind of sense. He is the Great Gatsby and his intro should be great! The movements of the characters are so precise I imagined that at any moment they would break into dance. It is a world that a struggling writer and bonds man named Nick Carraway gets so swept away in; he brings us along for the ride.
Everyone will be talking about Lurhmann’s use of music. This film is a period piece, but somehow manages to be extremely modern. The camera moves at fast pace, running through and over crowds and buildings as the rhythmic beats of Jay-Z and Kanye West blast from the background. At the first bar of “No Church in the Wild” hit, my theater laughed and none as hard as me. I’d heard the song in trailers, etc, but it never occurred to me to expect it in the actual movie. Hip-Hop laced with the smoothness of Jazz. It may seem a strange choice, but when you consider Fitzgerald’s book it’s not so strange. Fitzgerald wrote an extremely modern book. Filled with the then known as African American popular music most thought would be a fad, but we now know as the here to stay Jazz. Lurhmann took that idea and used current African American popular music to give us the experience on the screen. Many will not like the music choice, but at least understand the reasons behind it.
Everyone will talk about the music, but to me the shining achievement of this film is the acting. Leonardo DiCaprio got Gatsby just right. Jay Gatsby is mysterious, he is powerful, but his love (more like obsession) for one woman ruins him. The confidence is gone, the mystery gone and everything about him is worn on his sleeve, all at the mention of the name Daisy. Since 2007, it has been my opinion that DiCaprio has been playing some variation of Billy Costigan, his character from “The Departed.” He dropped it for Django, but in Gatsby he is transformed. Watching Leonardo DiCaprio, a man I have watched my entire life, move from classy mystery to love sick fool was like seeing someone I have never seen before.
His chemistry with Carey Mulligan was through the roof. I must admit that while others questioned Lurhman for shooting a New York story in Australia and shooting this American classic in 3D, I questioned his casting of Mulligan as Daisy. It seemed unfathomable to me that Mulligan could pull off a Daisy Buchanan that could be Leo DiCaprio’s ideal. Never has my opinion been so wrong. I simply loved her. Mulligan’s Daisy is as elegant, beautiful and charming as she seems to be naive, weak and innocent. Mulligan manages to show how careless and ridiculous Daisy is and still somehow I didn’t hate her. It is difficult to live up to the fantasy of Jay Gatsby.
While, I found Isla Fisher’s Myrtle to be over the top to the point of unwatchable and Toby Maguire’s Nick Carraway to be adequate, I loved Joel Edgerton’s Tom Buchanan. Buchanan is as unlikable in the film as he is in the book. He is a brash, snobby, racist, philandering jerk of a man and when he comes face to face with Gatsby it is electric. Like impossible to look away from. Seriously, those scenes are that damn good.
At the end of the day it’s the movie vs. the book. Book enthusiasts tend to hate movie adaptations. I love the book and truly enjoyed the movie.
Check it out and then let me know what you think!