‘The Great Gatsby’ Movie Review – Outside Looking In
Style is such a hard thing to judge. Although the entire film process is ultimately subjective, there are certain things that are easier to generalize to audiences. Emotions can be universal. Themes can be universal. Style, though, is not even close. Take someone like Tim Burton for example…is he a stylistic genius or your least favorite director? In the end, style is what people will remember about Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby…for better or worse.
It’s worth noting that I’m about to destroy my Gatsby credibility. Not only have I never seen a movie adaptation of the famous novel, but I still haven’t read it. Blame the American education system. As I noted when I first saw Les Misérables (a similar situation), this actually could work as an advantage when reviewing the film. At least I have no preconceived notions, right?
The Great Gatsby, for those like me that had no idea what the plot was about, focuses on Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) during the Roaring Twenties. Gatsby lives a lavish lifestyle, throwing mysterious parties and employing what seems like a hundred butlers and servants.
His lifestyle is for a reason, though, and it’s not just about him acting rich just because he can. He enlists the help of his neighbor (and narrator of the film) Nick (Tobey Maguire) to reunite with his past love. Gatsby and Daisy (Carey Mulligan) had a past back before he disappeared to fight overseas. However, a few things lay in their way, including Daisy’s shady husband (Joel Edgerton).
Taking place in the 1920’s doesn’t stop Luhrmann from trying to modernize the story. There are inevitable things that link the story to that time period, but he attempts to update it. Up until now, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel has been considered “unfilmable.” Luhrmann does his best to try something new I suppose. This includes the (what I consider) insane idea of putting modern music (most of it being hip-hop) in the movie’s soundtrack. With the exception of Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful,” I don’t think it works out well.
And this speaks to the style part of the film. Luhrmann, with his attempts to modernize it, creates a really fake-looking setting. I have no better way of explaining it other than it just doesn’t look right. Something is notably off. Apologists will point to the grand scale as a positive. I see your argument…
And yes, I am a defender of The Great Gatsby. Did Luhrmann go overboard? I’d say so. But does it destroy the narrative? I’d argue no.
It’s not really a love story – and we have Daisy to thank for that. It’s more of a story about hope (or maybe hopelessness). DiCaprio plays Gatsby “big” in the sense that it is a showy performance – bound to hatred like this film’s style – but he mixes the mysterious, arrogant, and genuine sides to Gatsby’s character. When he is truly revealed (obviously near the climax of the film), I think it becomes really unfair to bash the movie.
I’m not naive. There are plenty of people that simply aren’t going to like Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. Some may point to the original source material. Others to the style. I do agree that it’s stylistically a mess – with the music being at the forefront of the problems – but it ultimately comes down to distraction. Is it so bad that it distracts you from the story? For me…it obviously didn’t. I urge you to look past it because the cast, led by DiCaprio’s performance, create a pretty good story. Again, this is with no preconceived notions whatsoever.
The Great Gatsby is open in wide release now, check it out if you get the chance.
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