The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels. Not when I was younger. I hated every word of it in High School. It was dreary and I couldn't understand the fixation on Daisy even though she barely made an appearance in the book. But now in middle age, I understand this book! It is fucking fantastic. It gets the sadness of lost dreams. It screams out about the sham of American life from every page. It tells the truth about everything. It deserves its place as the greatest American novel.
I just wish that it will one day get the film version it deserves. Because Lurhman's version isn't it. But there are moments where his version is fun.
The problem putting this book on film is the abrupt change in tone. Because the parties fuel everything until they end due to Daisy's bigotry. The book doesn't suffer from this abrupt change but the films of it do. Because when the loud images end, the films (all of them) become excruciatingly awkward. Luhrman got the party vibe right. He got Gatsby right in casting (DiCaprio is wonderful) and presentation in the film. Although I still question his use of modern music. Granted the anachronistic sounds were relegated to party and bar scenes. But still, they were a shock and took me out of the time period. Whenever Jay Z or Beyonce or whatever artist of the moment sings, the film ceases to be a period flick and becomes a video about some person's 1920's masquerade ball. I would love to see a cut with all that crap cut out and proper 20's music inserted.
The rest of the casting was not so good. Tobey Mcguire held up reasonably well. But he just seems too odd, not the self contained WASP prep that he should be. I had a feeling he was cast because in some lights, he looks the spitting image of Fitzgerald himself. The last film of the book in the 70's had the fantastic Sam Waterston who, quite simply, was the living embodiment of Nick. It would be hard for any current actor to top his performance. However McGuire wasn't annoying. Joel Edgerton and Carey Mulligan are shockingly out of place and poorly cast. This is where Luhrman shot his own film down. Their casting was awful and it kills the film. Neither of them look American WASP (Mulligan looks more like an Irish scullery maid) and neither of them have any idea about how American WASPS socialize. Every time Mulligan lisped onto the screen, I wanted to scream. Luckily her performance didn't take up too much screen time. Edgerton was too over the top, too gauche (he looked more like new money not old) and saddled with a Hitler mustachio. Besides DiCaprio, the only other actor who really stood out was Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan. She looked right and got the manner of her character just right. I just wish she hadn't been shortchanged in screen time. I kept wishing she had been cast as Daisy (despite the recent film versions, Daisy is brunette, it is Jordan who is the blond). I look forward to seeing Debicki in starring roles in the future.
The film does follow the book almost slavishly. But it doesn't get the undercurrent of racism and classism American style. Luhrman tries valiantly but his efforts are just topical at most. Example, to show that Tom Buchanan is a racist, he gives the character a Hitler mustachio. He neglects to show that Daisy also shares in her husbands bigotry and racism. He also hints that Daisy was going to call Gatsby at the end. Which is just wrong to even hint at it. The woman is a sociopath not a misunderstood girl.
New York. This is where Luhrman stumbled but in the end succeeded. I and a lot of other film fans grumbled that the film wasn't filmed in NYC. Because really, there is so much of New York and Long Island that looks the same as it did in the 20's. However the carnivalesque CGI New York of Lurhman's fantasy doesn't look half bad. I quite enjoyed it at the end.
My final opinion, the film looks good. The costumes and the special effects are top notch. It captures the spirit of the 20's at least it does until Jay Z starts to yodel. The acting, not so good from the most important roles but DiCaprio and Debicki hold up the film. It is a mixed bag but it has its enjoyable moments. What the film really needed from Luhrman was more Moulin Rouge not less. I never thought I would say this, but Luhrman shouldn't have followed the book so closely. Oddly, he would have captured the book more if he had just gone his own way instead of bowing to obsequious, reverential treatment of the source. Because lets be honest, Luhrman doesn't have a quiet bone in his body. When this film goes quiet, it goes DOA.
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