In just 172 pages, F. Scott Fitzgerald has captured the zeitgeist of the Jazz Age, and told the stirring story of love and loss. In this new adaptation of the book, director Baz Luhrmann has used an estimated $127 million, glamorizing with 3D and over the top cinematic effects.
Here is a prime example of ‘the medium is the message.’ Instead of depicting extravagance and excess, the production has become that.
I went in with an open mind. After all, I had expected a mashed-up, postmodern fusion Luhrmann style. So, even the Jay-Z curated hip hop selections a la Gershwin cacophony was fine with me. After all, it was the unruly Jazz Age, so be it. Gatsby’s creamy yellow roadster speeding towards Manhattan, zigzagging its way through busy streets, Fast and Furious 1920’s version is still acceptable. By the way, the movie was shot in Australia. So, all the Manhattan scenes are visual remixes.
But the main issue for me is the 3D. Not much to be gained there but hindrances. The effects make me feel like I’m looking into a View-Master, artificial and gratuitous. For Gatsby, the extravaganzas in his mansion are only means to an end, to attract his love, Daisy; in Luhrmann’s hands, they are an end in themselves. The flamboyant and ostentatious parties, like their uninvited guests, overstay their welcome in the first part of the almost 2.5 hour production.
If Luhrmann had only used more of his wealth of resources: the rich and talented cast, to explore the story more and go deeper into characterization, and less partying, the movie would have been a wonder.
After all the glitz and glam in the first act, my enjoyment begins when Gatsby meets Daisy in Nick’s humble abode, a set up masterminded by Gatsby. It has taken him five years to this very moment. It is this scene that draws me in from being just an aloof onlooker. From without to within, it is the story and the characters that engage me more than the visual spectaculars.
Leonardo DiCaprio is a fine Gatsby, convincing and comical at times. Carey Mulligan may not be the Daisy I had conjured up from reading the book, but she has mastered her role well on her own terms. She’s a much sweeter, less careless Daisy than I had in mind. Elizabeth Debicki is an apt Jordan Baker. Joel Edgerton as sneaky and snobbish Tom Buchanan needs to smile more, and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway less. The veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan is a good choice for Meyer Wolfsheim. Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson, what a change from a shopaholic, and Jason Clarke too much a hunk to be wimpy Wilson.
One major alteration that I’ve appreciated is Nick writing out the story as a therapy recommended by his doctor, apparently a psychiatrist. The story of Jay Gatsby is also Nick’s own story as a writer. By articulating his experience in words he pays tribute to an unforgettable character, a dreamer who always sees the green light. Without giving out a spoiler, let me just say, the little twist at the end is a nice touch to this new adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
Does it worth a watch? I’d say yes, even in the 3D version. Curiosity is insatiable. And hopefully, the visual spectaculars can draw the viewer back once again to the literary offering Fitzgerald had first created.
~ ~ ~ Ripples
A related Post I wrote 3 years ago at the announcement of this new adaptation. My open letter to Baz Luhrmann: