Friday, May 10

REVIEW: The Great Gatsby

Directed by Baz Luhrmann
2013 Drama
2 hours 23 minutes
From Warner Bros and
Village Roadshow

Leonardo DiCaprio
Tobey Maguire
Carey Mulligan
Joel Edgerton
Elizabeth Debicki
Isla Fisher
Jason Clarke

Directed by Baz Luhrmann, co-written by Baz Luhrmann, co-produced by Baz Luhrmann, glitz by Baz Luhrmann, sparklers by Baz Luhrmann, spectacle by Baz Luhrmann.  The touch is definitely present and accounted for.  Remember the look and feel of Moulin Rouge?   It's baaaack.

So much has been written about this fifth incarnation (including silent and TV versions) of the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald novel that one could get woozy trying to take it all in.  And I gotta get in here right away that I am already starting to get fascinated with what the public (you're the public) will think.  I imagine the answers to that will be as varied as varied can be.

I should think the 16-year olds, stoned and in a pack, will like it.  They've never read the novel and seen any of the previous four renderings.  Wow, man, who is this Gatsby dude?  They will trip on how he lives, the parties he throws and the look of the first half of this film.  (Yes, with all that we've had jammed down our throats with the glitz of this film, it's more or less only in the first half.)  And of course, they love Leo.

I love Leo.  He's why I attended.  I've never missed one of his films.  If you've never missed one, you'll probably like this film as much as I liked it.  I don't expect he'll need to wake up early next year to hear the announcement of the Oscar nominations but he was great fun.  The first moment we see him full-faced (there are a couple of distance shots), I thought he was as handsome as he's ever been.  Of course throughout the film, because he's filthy rich, he's certainly dressed well. 

If you're not 16, not stoned, not a Leo fan and have not read the novel, you may find the buttered popcorn is your favorite part of the two hours and 23 minutes you'll be spending in the dark.  Or if you see this first on a DVD in your comfy chair, just stay awake.

If one has read the novel, despite your age, condition of brain or Leo-loving status, ah, you may get fussy here as all us book-readers are prone to do.  What are they doing to one of our American classics? 

I was pretty hot about Fitzgerald although I was more into Tender Is the Night than Gatsby and I was besotted with the writer's personal life... the marriage to Zelda, the general craziness, the booze, the Hollywood years.  Most of all I loved the expatriate years in Europe in the 1920s and 30s and all those he palled around with.

The novel was a slight one and Fitzgerald seemed to have said as little about Gatsby as possible.  He seemed to introduce him to us mysteriously and keep him rather vague throughout.  None of the previous films has been successful and perhaps it's because of the Gatsby character's vagueness.  In film he seems incomplete.  It seems we need to know more about him so we can better understand him.  Whether played by Alan Ladd, Robert Redford or Leonardo DiCaprio, Gatsby indeed seems vague and in large part that means uninteresting. What might have worked in a novel doesn't seem to play well on the screen.

For those completely in the dark, Jay Gatsby is a nouveau-riche single man living an extravagant lifestyle in a castle-like home on Long Island in the 1920s.  To tell the truth, there's nothing great about him.  He's got some decided character issues.  He's long on deal-making and short on intimacy.  He's pretty to look at, delightful on throwing his money around but in a myriad ways he's a loser.

He is still mourning a lost opportunity when the story opens.  Five years earlier he lost the love of his life, he says, because she's a really nice girl (he's attracted to nice?  He wouldn't know nice if it came up and introduced itself to him).  You see, here's where my problem is with the book/past Gatsby movies and this one.  He has now bought this mega-estate across the bay from his lost love who is now married and not particularly happily.  He can look across the bay from his upstairs window and wonder.  He can throw open-invitation, monster parties in the hopes that she will come.  What he can't do apparently is take his little putt-putt across the bay, take her in his arms and throw his tongue down her throat.  This is not a mild-mannered man.  He's a big brave boy who's cut and slashed his way to get to the top and he can't go knock on her door?  Uh-huh.

And then there's her.  I know there's no explaining love sometimes, why we love who we do or why we're drawn to the kinds of people we're drawn to, but in all the versions of this film I have seen, the object of Gatsby's affection is, well, um, rather dull.  The character of Daisy is dull and the actresses who have played her (Betty Field in the 1949 version, Mia Farrow in 1974 and now Carey Mulligan) are so wan limp.  Wouldn't Gatsby have fallen sought out a great beauty?  Wouldn't he have wanted someone with more vitality?  Ok, I'll cut the actresses some slack here because the character was written dull, but then let's just say this is still the problem I have with this work.  And I frankly don't fully comprehend the need to produce this work again and again.

And while we're on the subject of dull, let's consider the Nick Carraway character.  Forgive me for taking so long to tell you he is really the main character.  He is the first one we see, the last one we see and he is rarely off screen.  He is the narrator, as well, and it would not be wrong to say the film is less about Gatsby as it is Carraway's view of the man.  The story, told, in flashback, unfolds as Carraway is writing about him.  He is a nextdoor neighbor of Gatsby's and a poor cousin of Daisy's.  He, too, needs a shot of vitamin B12.  I think when someone does the sixth version, they should make Nick and Gatsby gay because they sureinthehell spend a lot of time together and fuss over one another like demented old sisters.

Tobey Maguire, in real life a good friend of DiCaprio's, must have taken the same downers that Mulligan took.  These were semi-lifeless performances but then again, in fairness, they are two zombie-like characters.  Hey, maybe a gay-zombie sixth version.

Ok, let's tidy this up with some jawing about that glitz.  I liked it.  No one does over-the-top quite like Baz. Perhaps it didn't really fit but given that I find the story a bit of a yawn, it certainly lubricated all my parts.  My toes were tapping at the Jay-Z musical contribution and my eyes bulging from the sequins, streamers, fireworks, manic dancing, champagne-sipping, sexual horseplay and all the rest of the zany stuff from those madcappers from the 1920s.  Those folks sure knew how to cut loose. 

A special shout-out to Simon Duggan's astonishing wielding of those cameras.  Man, did you have your work cut out for you.  And kudos to the dazzling art directing of Ian Gracie, Damien Drew and Michael Turner and the set decoration by Beverley Dunn.  All of those who worked on special effects certainly contributed to the wonderful look of this film.

Hollywood Canteen

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