Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Great Gatsby 2013 Review

High school has officially ended, and along with preparing for college, that means that I can now return to the occupation of lit loving again. Yes, it's been far too long, but it feels good to be back and writing in this blank text box once again.

There's so much to share with you. I've read many books during my blogging hiatus and seen a few movies. I've analyzed Wuthering Heights nearly to death in my AP English Literature class and gulped down Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In my very limited spare time, I finally finished Far From the Madding Crowd and watched its adaptations. All in all, this ought to be a very enterprising summer for Lit Lovers & Corset Laces before I go boldly facing the new world of NYU or U of Miami and the college experience. 

Anyway, in the midst of studying for my AP tests, I specifically set a Saturday night aside to go see Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby with my sister and best friend. Thank goodness that pretty much every American has had to read the novel around their sophomore year, so I didn't get the usual elbow in the arm followed by "What the heck is going on?" or "Wait, what? Explain to me what just happened" like I normally do. 

I should probably start by saying that this film is not going to be for everyone. I know that I always include a disclaimer about how opinions differ and the like, but I especially mean it when it comes to this movie. Why? Because it's a Baz Luhrmann film, and he's the type of director whose movies you either love or hate altogether. How many of you liked the 90s edition of Romeo and Juliet with ecstasy pills playing the role of Queen Mab? Yea, well that's Luhrmann. But to be fair, that is one of his riskier movies. Others include Moulin Rouge and Australia. 

It's clear that this version of Gatsby was purposely meant to cater to my generation, which read The Great Gatsby two years ago, loved it, and would appreciate a modern twist. That doesn't make it any less faithful to the source material. To me, it just made the movie better. The 1920s weren't all too different from today in the sense that all the young and rich wanted to do was drink, party, and live without a care for how their actions affected others. Luhrmann put the 20s into a new context. 


I've never much appreciated Leonardo Dicaprio as an actor. In the days of Titanic and Romeo and Juliet, he was just a good-looking kid acting in good-looking movies with good-looking girls, and there was rarely any substance. As his career progressed, he seemed kind of stuck in the middle. His talent is, in my opinion, on the slim side. He never completely transforms into character. He goes overboard trying to be convincing, and all that results is Leo Dicaprio attempting to be whoever in whatever movie. But that only makes him perfect for the role of Gatsby, who (like Dicaprio) has spent his whole life overcompensating and pretending to be someone he's not. Dicaprio's shallowness and unconvincing approach to playing an unconvincing character actually managed to be...well, convincing. The two were a near perfect match. What does the audience actually know about Gatsby? Nothing. Even after everything is explained, no one ever really gets a clear picture of who Gatsby is. All we know is that he is great specimen of ambition and hopefulness. Dicaprio plays the part well. We feel for Gatsby the same way (if not more than) we do in the novel. And yet we're never truly let in. 

It's hard to talk about how Carey Mulligan does well as Daisy Buchanan because Daisy is one of the most frustrating characters in literary history. But I do like the way Mulligan manipulates the role. Throughout the movie I kept wondering, "Why exactly didn't I like Daisy?" Then the climax hits, and Mulligan does exactly what Daisy is supposed to do: she retreats into her world of "carelessness." And Carey is also gorgeous. Coldly gorgeous. Somewhat like Daisy. 

Casting Peter Parker--I mean, Tobey Maguire--was the most iffy decision in the movie. Personally, I've never liked Maguire in anything. He plays the same character in every movie, and Nick Carroway was just too much. But then again, Nick is just kind of the narrator and in-between guy. The audience can't really make up its mind about him. I don't like his voice, I don't like his lost way of acting, and even when Nick is supposed to buckle down and realize his disgust for Daisy and Tom's inauthentic world, it never seems genuine.

I would not have chosen Joel Edgerton to play Tom Buchanon. Perhaps this is a misinterpretation on my part. Personally, I never picture Tom as being hyper-masculine in the "big and burly" sense that I get from Edgerton. To me, Tom is somewhat akin to Stanley from A Streetcar Named Desire: magnetic sex appeal, insane ego, and the joy of getting pleasure from women. Joel Edgerton just doesn't have that kind of comfort in the role. I'd prefer someone more Bradley Cooper-esque, which is funny because Bradley Cooper was actually rumored for the role at one point.

The roles of Jordan and George Wilson are perfectly casted, but casting Isla Fisher as Myrtle is a fail, and I'll leave it at that.


Screenplay: As far as dialogue, the screenplay is surprisingly faithful to the novel. However, the first part of the movie is incredibly fast-paced. There's just too much happening at once and it has the capacity to make you dizzy and slightly annoyed. Some scenes are just awkwardly written, particularly the Nick's day in the apartment with Tom, Myrtle, and Co. After the audience is introduced to Gatsby, the pace slows and the movie settles in and really gets good.

Cinematography:  Nothing incredibly breathtaking. Luhrmann is all about dramatic affect, so there are a lot of melodramatic closeups, extravagant computer works and camera techniques, and other things that I really don't know about. Anyone really acquainted with the technical aspects of cinematography will appreciate this, but I know nothing about any of that.

Soundtrack: I downloaded it. It's filled with modern artists from every genre, most of which I happen to love. Alone, the soundtrack is just a really good CD. What's great about the film is that the songs aren't the least bit overpowering. In most cases, the words are stripped away the instrumentals are all you hear, and they fit perfectly into the story. The music incorporates clear elements of the time period.

Costumes: Perhaps not necessarily true to era, but certainly fun to look at. And you can see the influence of the roaring twenties.

The Great Gatsby was a risk when it was written and a risk whenever it's translated to the big screen. I respect Luhrmann and love the way he manages to artfully imbue the novel's larger-than-life qualities into the movie. However, the helter-skelter pace of the first half and some of the excess (such as releasing it in 3D) detract from the substance of the story in some places. Overall it is a big and breathtaking display, but not an entirely cohesive one. Three out of five stars would do it justice.