16/05/2013

The Great Gatsby

In 1997 a new Australian director teamed up with Leonardo DiCaprio to modernise a classic literary work about a doomed romance, but unlike Romeo + Juliet, the heart of F. Scott Fitzgerald's story - the tragic romance between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan - isn't strong enough to withstand the visual trickery, grand production design and endless Jay-Z songs to make an impact. Criticising Baz Luhrmann for being a bit over the top seems redundant because that's what he does; you don't go to a Michael Bay movie expecting nuance and character, but having said that there's very little to take away from this adaptation.

Luhrmann and his enormously talented wife/production partner Catherine Martin have clearly spent a great deal of time and effort bringing the Roaring Twenties alive through fashion and set design which is, as expected, appropriately spectacular, but despite his and Isla Fisher's insistence that all the actors took part in an intense workshop so they paid justice to the characters, by the end of the film I hadn't quite understood why anyone had done anything.
Gatsby by himself is a fascinating character; a man in search of the 'American Dream' before the term was even coined who only crafted Gatsby in the hope of winning back his great love. He may have a fantastic array of pastel suits and v-neck sweaters, but underneath his style and charm is a deeply insecure man haunted by his past and the memory of the now-married Daisy. DiCaprio does his best, and probably gives the best performance in the film, but the frustration is that although Luhrmann takes his time setting everything up the key moments are rushed seemingly because he has more mad editing to do on soulless visuals.

There are hints of the themes Fitzgerald explored in his novel but there never seems to be any point in exploring them to give some depth to all the lavish decadence on display. It doesn't help that Carey Mulligan is essentially a clotheshorse desperately trying to give her thin character some dimensions and despite being the narrator and observer of the story, there is no excuse for Tobey Maguire to only show one facial expression. He says he's intrigued by Gatsby and his world but you'd never know to look at him. Oh, and speaking of the narration, was it really necessary to have words flying across the screen? Did Daisy have to appear in the clouds ala Mufasa when Jay spoke of her? Too much, Baz, too much.

There's been a lot of hate thrown at The Great Gatsby and while a part of me enjoyed the insanity of it, it's difficult not to feel like one of Gatsby's party guests: you lived in his world for a bit and enjoyed the fireworks, but once it's over you realise you know just as little about him.