“Gatsby. Did someone say Gatsby?” Yeah, yeah, yeah. It took me a while to get around to watching Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the Fitzgerald classic, but aren’t you glad that I finally did? I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with breathless anticipation for my review (sarcasm really), so here goes.
And yes, before we get any further, I read the book before I saw the film. Because you know, nobody does the 1920s as well as F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Told from the perspective of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), The Great Gatsby follows the life of the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who throws lavish parties at his brilliant mansion next door to Nick. Who is he? How did he end up so wealthy? And why he is so obsessed with Nick’s beautiful cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), who lives on the other side of the bay, and is married to the exceedingly wealthy Tom (Joel Edgerton). Slowing both in tempo and pizzazz (finally, an excuse to use that word), The Great Gatsby unfolds into a hauntingly sad romance, where people are intwined, lives are ruined, and we’re horribly reminded that you can’t repeat the past. No matter how much you hope for it.
So. Baz Luhrmann. You either love him, or you hate him. And by ‘hate’ (because, really, hating a director? Tad melodramatic), I really mean ‘doesn’t know what he’s doing as a director, and so hides behind big budgets, big sets and the talent of his wife and costume designer, Catherine Martin’. Ouch. Not that that is what I think. Really. Unlike many people who were big fans of the book, I thought that Luhrmann and The Great Gatsby were a match made in heaven. After all, Gatsby is all about excess, beauty and hiding behind material wealth (so that nobody can see how truly shallow we are), is it not?
In all seriousness though, I really loved the flamboyant direction that Luhrmann took with The Great Gatsby. And just like he achieved with Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet, his accompanying soundtrack, though modern for its setting, fitted perfectly with what was occurring onscreen, capturing the emotions of the characters succinctly. While I wasn’t blown away by the finer nuances of his directing, because in all honesty trying to fine the finer nuances in all Luhrmann film is going to be feat, I wasn’t disappointed by it either. However, I also think that the brilliant storyline is what has helped create it into a commercial success.
The storyline. Heartbreaking much? There’s something so utterly poignant, and absolutely tragic about The Great Gatsby. Even though all the characters (except perhaps Nick) are filthy rich and lead the lives of the privileged, they’re still really, really awful human beings. Daisy? Completely shallow, and wants a life filled with luxury, money and status – even if she has to forfeit love in the process. Tom? A bigoted, racist, cheater of a man, who likes to control his wife and all those around him. And Gatsby? Well, isn’t he the biggest lier of all?
But, in saying that, Gatsby was perhaps the only character that I connected to. Perhaps it was because he was so heartbreakingly in love with Daisy, who we’ve established is not the girl you want to fall in love with. Or that even though he was wealthy, handsome and threw the most outrageous parties, he was still alone. Or maybe it was his complete faith in destiny, the endless hope that he had that things would work out, or even the fact that, even despite his legendary status, he still became nervous and clumsy when he was re-united with Daisy. I couldn’t quite tell you for sure, but I can tell you that it was largely because of Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting.
Every emotion that he felt flickered across his face; hope, love, lust, anger, betrayal. The confliction that he felt when Daisy still hadn’t left her husband, combined with his belief that they were meant to be together. The shallow pretences of his life, juxtaposed against his need to have a friend in Nick. Even the smallest things, like not understanding what a favour is, were all perfectly delivered by DiCaprio. In a less-skilled actor the role would have been hollow and unbelievable, and the overall storyline a big, awful flop.
Last, but not least, the costumes. Wasn’t the 1920s fabulous? By the 1920s, of course I do mean the ridiculously wealthy upper-class of the 1920s, who all strolled around in beautiful dresses, gorgeous headpieces and, oh, the jewels! Now, I may not be rich, nor do I have any real desire to become rich (I get way too excited by dumplings to belong in that upper-class circle), but, damn, I love me some jewels (what woman doesn’t?). Daisy’s headpiece, rumoured to cost over $200 thousand. Sigh. That gorgeous engagement ring, coupled with the diamond encrusted wedding ring? Oh hello. And yes, sure. The whole point of the film is that we live in a society that is inherently focused on the shallowness of excess, and that those who rely on material goods are inevitably morally bankrupt. Yes, I get that. But that’s OK. Because while I’m never going to splurge half a million on a ring, I am still more than happy to swoon over those who do.
And just as a little note, for the boys who don’t give a damn about shiny, beautiful jewellery, there’s still shiny, beautiful and one-of-a-kind cars to drool over throughout the film.
So, conclusion? The Great Gatsby was an enjoyable 2 and a half hours spent at the cinemas. Breathtaking? No. Awe-inspiring? Not so much. But it did exceed my expectations, and I felt it did to justice to the book and the underlying themes throughout. For all the beauty and glamour in The Great Gatsby, it is still a storyline that makes you think, makes you feel and makes you wonder.
Have you read or seen The Great Gatsby? What did you think? Let me know!