The Great Gatsby (2013)
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgarton, Carey Mulligan
It’s a tricky thing to adapt a beloved book, and in this case an absolute classic, to the screen because let’s face it, expectations are insanely high and the only place to go is down. So how does Baz Luhrmann tackle the big project? He makes it bigger, louder, and grander than the book possibly could’ve imagined. His style breathes through almost every frame full of glitter and glamor. But there’s a moment when all of the shining lights and the sparkling dresses leave and the story takes center stage, and we’re reminded at what a remarkable story it is.
During the jazz age of the ’20s, we’re introduced to Nick Carraway (Maguire) who is speaking with a therapist due to his recent battle with depression and violent outbursts. While this isn’t in the novel, it provides us a reason for why Nick is narrating throughout. Then we’re introduced to the world that Luhrmann has created for us. A wildly exciting one for those East Egg and West Egg folk with money, and a deeply grim one for those who don’t.
The first half hour is bland, as if Luhrmann is barely amused with the importance of separating the new and old money, or establishing the connections between Nick, Daisy, and Tom Buchanon. There’s no doubt that Luhrmann couldn’t wait to provide his take on what Gatsby’s legendary parties would feel like, and he knocks it out of the park. There is music, dozens of dancers, flowing alcohol from every inch of his land, a pool cluttered with attractive people, waiters serving food and beverages, performances, tuxedos and dresses. But the question is, who is Gatsby?
Enters Leonardo DiCaprio, who gives a great performance (doesn’t he always?) as Jay Gatsby, an incredibly wealthy man with a secretive past who dreams of holding on to the past as much as he imagines the future. He is a handsome and charming man who has his eyes on only one person, the love of his life Daisy. He is a dreamer that wasn’t afraid to change his image to change the person he was supposed to be. But now he wants her back, except there are big obstacles standing in his way.
There are many things that The Great Gatsby doesn’t do right. For instance, the portrayal of Daisy played by Carey Mulligan. It is by far not her fault, as she is a fine actor and has proven it from her past accomplishments. But here, Daisy is a soft, almost emotionless woman who is quick to decide but not firm to give reason. She’s not the childish girl who locks her emotions inside herself, allowing her heart to be split from her head. And then there’s Nick Carraway narrating the movie during moments we really don’t need narration. Maguire, another fine actor, is wasted as Nick because he’s just a pawn in Luhrmann’s world.
But when everything is over, it’s an incredibly enjoyable film. The Great Gatsby isn’t great, but it’s full of energy and lively spirits to fulfill all of our senses. It’s an interpretation that creates a different form of art from the literature. We get a love story and it’s one that we are interested in, solely because of DiCaprio’s performance. Whether it’s liked or not, when tackling enormous expectations, Luhrmann could’ve done a lot worse.