Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Movie Review: Baz Luhrmann's THE GREAT GATSBY

I know THE GREAT GATSBY has been overshadowed by flashier summer fare, but, if you missed it in theaters, don't miss it when it comes to your living room. Here's my take...

Up-front confession: I’m a big fan of Baz Luhrmann. Not to mention Leo DiCaprio. But I don’t think those predispositions got in the way of my major two-thumbs-up response to Luhrmann’s interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

When the novel about the mysterious but wealthy Jay Gatsby’s (DiCaprio) love for and attempt to steal away the unhappily married Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) was published, it received mixed reviews, and Fitzgerald died disappointed – almost penniless and having wasted his body with alcohol. Luhrmann chooses a framing device for the movie where narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) serves as a stand-in for Fitzgerald, by drafting the story to his psychiatrist in later years. For me, this works because of the instant association with the author, and the kind of posthumous approval he receives through the character of Carraway.

Luhrmann’s interpretation works at every level: how Daisy’s husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) doesn’t like to lose at anything (just look at those trophies in the opening segment!), and he won’t lose Daisy, no matter what. How Tom doesn’t want to be known as a polo player, and Nick doesn’t want to be known as a writer, and Jay doesn’t want to be known as a poor boy – and who are they all, really? How the two small parties – the orgiastic party that Tom compels Nick to attend with Tom’s mistress near the beginning, and the destructive party in the Plaza near the end – are mirrors but also opposites.

The movie is lush and opulent and natural imagery pops off the screen – even in 2-d – in vivid color. Skies aren’t just studded with stars: they are overwhelmed by the majesty of the infinite. Flowers don’t just bloom: they drip and ooze such that I could swear the air is perfumed. The costumes are lust-for gorgeous, and the music, though contemporary, fits so perfectly that it slips seamlessly, but beautifully, into the effect. And the visual impressions Luhrmann makes with Gatsby’s fabulous parties are beyond eye candy – they are excessive with glitter, noise, laughter, frivolity, class and race disparities, drunkenness, hedonism, waste.

When I was writing Sirens, my touchstone was Gatsby. The 1920s are revered as “high times”, but those high times hide dark secrets and even darker social injustices. And Luhrmann gets this in spades.


LinWash said...

I don't know why I keep forgetting about this movie. I guess because of the flashier summer fare you mentioned (Man of Steel; Monsters University). I must see this. I loved STRICTLY BALLROOM and MOULIN ROUGE. And yes, Leo is great!

Janet Fox said...

I know! It's too bad he held it for summer - it's just not the kind of summer fare that competes well. But I loved it, and think it's far better than the older versions. Thanks, Linda!