On Saturday, Herbie, Audrey and I went to see “The Great Gatsby.” In 3D, because obviously. We dined like kings beforehand, in case you missed the extravagant feast of breakfast foods on Instagram. The three of us were varying degrees of excited about the film, but we all seemed to agree that you shouldn’t go into it thinking it will be exceedingly true to the book. This is going to get spoiler-y, because it’s hard to write a movie review without giving some major plot points away. If you haven’t read “The Great Gatsby” yet, that’s not my fault. Readjust your priorities.
First of all, the movie starts with a voice-over of the opening lines of the book. Kind of: “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’
Funny that both “Moulin Rouge” and “The Great Gatsby” start with a depressed, drunk protagonist at a typewriter. Funny in that it’s not funny at all and makes me hate Baz Luhrmann even more, and we’re only 45 seconds into the movie. At about the one minute mark, Baz starts smacking you in the face with the symbolism of the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock and the eyes of Dr. TJ Eckleburg. You know, symbolism, which was handled delicately in the book! DELICATELY, BAZ. That was my biggest gripe about the film before I even set foot in the theater: I knew the subtleties and the nuances would be totally lost amid the flapper-themed keg party Baz had his cold, black heart set on. For fuck’s sake, Jay-Z was an Executive Producer. Can you imagine that introduction? “F. Scott Fitzgerald, have you met Jay-Z? You’ll get along. You wrote perhaps one of the most important American novels in history, and Jay-Z knocked up someone from Destiny’s Child. You spent time in Paris to hone your creative talents, rubbing elbows with the likes of Hemingway and Getrude Stein. Jay-Z and Kayne West wrote a rap called ‘N*ggas in Paris.’ IT’S LIKE YOU’RE THE SAME PERSON.”
Anyway, I hated the first half of the film. It was overwhelmingly, obnoxiously ostentatious, but lacking the self-awareness to see the irony of being over-the-top. It wasn’t excessive to mirror the excess of the roaring 20s, or to draw parallels to Gatsby’s opulent lifestyle, throwing parties to fill the emptiness of his existence. It was just opulence for the sake of opulence, and because Luhrmann has a heavy hand and can’t exhibit any form of self-control. The music was anachronistic and if we’re going to start making hip-hop versions of classics, I personally can’t wait for the Snoop Dog soundtrack of “Macbeth.” It was so Baz-y that it might as well have been called “Moulin Gatsby!” and was all just too claustrophobic for me. At one point, there was a confetti canon in the shape of a giant champagne bottle and life-size inflatable zebras in the pool.
What is this I can’t even.
Everyone raved about the costumes before the film was released, but I was mostly underwhelmed. No, you don’t get points for nailing the style of the timeframe in which your movie is set. That’s your job. Sticking sequins on every exposed surface does not authentic make. Baz managed to cock-up enough other important details that I’m not going to throw him a mercy-bone for making sure Carey Mulligan had the perfect Louise Brooks bob (but she totally did though).
But when all the glitter settled and Flux Pavillion’s grating dubstep nightmare “I Can’t Stop” actually finally stopped, we were left with Leonardo DiCaprio as a phenomenal Gatsby. He was incredible. His affectation, his undeniable swagger in a linen suit, his tearful speech to Tobey Maguire’s doe-eyed Nick about everything he’s done in his life for Daisy’s love, his maniacal chase to reclaim the past, it worked. It worked wonderfully, and Gatsby alone, away from the party was the first moment in the entire movie that I stopped hating everything about it.
Carey Mulligan is flawless, and that’s all I have to say about that. The role of Daisy is impossible for so many reasons (adding to the list of reasons why we should stop trying to translate this book to a movie) but she delivered a truly absorbing performance. These two alone sold the whole monstrosity for me. I bought into it and I let myself forget how the book ends, and it was beautiful watching them dance quietly, consumed by each other.
I’LL NEVER LET GO, JAY.
Other Things I Liked: 1. The JG logo that was pervasive across the whole movie, including the branding for the film. The art deco feel was flawless. 2. When Myrtle gets hit by the car. Always. Every time. Even when I read it, I start applauding internally. 3. While I maintain the music was unnecessarily current, this Lana Del Rey song just worked so perfectly. I’ve been listening to it on repeat for days.
4. Leonardo DiCaprio sitting anxiously next to macarons. SWAG.
5. That they incorporated the last page of the book verbatim into the ending. Could I have done without the Baz-effect of floating typewriter letters in the night sky, swirling around to form “borne back ceaselessly into the past”? A duh, but I’m just grateful for scraps at this point, okay?
If I had to grade it I’d give it a C. If you take away Baz Luhrmann it jumps to a solid A. What worries me the most is that this is setting a precedent for future book-to-film translations, and if we’re setting the bar at “OUTRAGEOUS SENSORY OVERLOAD EXTRAVAGANZA” in 2013, I fear for whatever version my future child will have to endure (6D total immersion with holograms, no doubt). Not everything needs to be “made current” and given a timestamp of a different era. The book worked so well because of the prose, and when you take the focus away from that, what do you have? An Australian megalomaniac with a hard-on for sparkle.