Short post here because, frankly, it’s not worth much more. Baz Luhrman – he of the modern pop mets Shakespeare, meets turn of the century Paris, and meets whatever the hell happened in Australia – returns with an updated version of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
There are a laundry list of problems with the film. 1. It’s boring. 2. It’s too long. 3. There’s really not much acting. 4. It decides that spectacle is good replacement for emotion. And so on.
I really only want to focus on the last two up there. #3 is what struck me the most. Despite having assembled a rather impressive cast, The Great Gatsby features very little performance of any kind. The only scene I really liked is an awkward tea time where Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby is re-introduced to Carey Mulligan’s Daisy Buchanan. It’s a good scene – nervous, funny, awkward and sweet. It’s also one of the only scenes in the entire film where Luhrman settles things down, let’s his actors take the reins and relies on their skill and interaction to bring book to cinematic life.
Otherwise: dramatic moments are (constantly) interrupted by music montages and we’re left to rely on Nick Carraway’s (Tobey Maguire) voiceover to get us through plot points. What Luhrman has essentially done (point 4) is strip out scenes, replace them with his active camera and Jay-Z-led soundtrack, and avoid the mantra “show us don’t tell us,” entirely. It’s a disaster that feels like watching early-2000s MTV music videos occasionally interrupted by PSAs for The Great Gatsby the novel as read by Tobey Maguire.
Several reviews I’ve read have noted Gatsby is for this generation what Romeo + Juliet was for the children of the 90s. That is, an updating of a literary classic that said generation can relate to because of all the bells and whistles. Maybe it’s the crotchety man in me, but, despite not really being much of an admirer of Luhrman’s take on Shakespeare, I disagree. At least in that film there’s some pathos. The sense of drama plays out on-screen in gang violence form and romantic whispers. Here, the dramatic moments (see: Daisy, Nick and Gatsby in his house for the first time; Daisy’s husband Tom beginning to discover his wife’s affair at a Gatsby party) play out with commercial breaks to get past the boring stuff (the human interaction) and get to the PARTY!
When I think of the word spectacle in terms of film I think of Busby Berkeley. Yeah, maybe Golddiggers of 1933 is a little outdated, and it didn’t have the exact same strategy that Luhrman employs (though the influence is undeniable), but that film knew when to hit the brakes. Luhrman, like Daisy at the wheel, can’t help but accelerate through.