The Great Gatsby

Sparkles, but lacks soul, writes

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES -

F any piece of clas­sic Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture should be de­picted on film with wildly deca­dent and boldly in­ven­tive style, it’s The Great Gatsby.

Who was the char­ac­ter of Jay Gatsby him­self if not a spin­ner of grandiose tales and a ped­dler of lav­ish dreams?

Baz Luhrmann would seem like the ideal di­rec­tor to bring F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s story to the screen yet again, to breathe new life into th­ese revered words, hav­ing shaken up cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions pre­vi­ously with films in­clud­ing Wil­liam Shake­speare’s Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!

This is the man who dared to stage the iconic bal­cony scene in a swim­ming pool, so mix­ing in a lit­tle Jay-Z amid the Jazz Age stan­dards strangely makes sense.

But in Luhrmann’s pre­vi­ous films, there still ex­isted a fun­da­men­tal un­der­stand­ing of the point of the sto­ries he was telling. Be­neath their gor­geous trap­pings, they still re­flected the heart and the pur­pose of the works from which they were drawn.

His Great Gatsby is all about the glit­ter but it has no soul. The 3D di­rec­tion mag­ni­fies the ar­ti­fi­cial­ity.

His cam­era rushes and swoops and twirls through one elab­o­rately staged bac­cha­nal af­ter an­other but in­stead of cre­at­ing a feel­ing of vi­brancy, it’s repet­i­tive. Rather than cre­at­ing a sense of im­mer­sion and tan­gi­bil­ity, the 3D holds you at arm’s length, ren­der­ing the ex­pen­sive, ob­ses­sive de­tails as shiny and hol­low when they should have been ex­quis­ite.

The clothes, es­pe­cially the dresses Carey Mul­li­gan wears as the elu­sive, ethe­real golden girl Daisy Buchanan, are mag­nif­i­cent – the work of Luhrmann’s wife and fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor Cather­ine Martin.

In case it’s been a while since 10th-grade English class, the year is 1922, and young Nick Car­raway has moved into a cot­tage on the nou­veau riche Long Is­land en­clave of West Egg with dreams of mak­ing it big on the New York Stock Ex­change. Across the bay is the old-mon­eyed com­mu­nity of East Egg, where Nick’s cousin, the daz­zling so­cialite Daisy, lives with her cheat­ing, blue-blooded hus­band, Tom (Joel Edger­ton).

But ev­ery­one, re­gard­less of where they’re from, gath­ers each week­end for wild par­ties at Gatsby’s pala­tial abode – which hap­pens to be next door to Nick’s hum­ble house. The nor­mally mys­te­ri­ous Gatsby be­friends Nick with hopes of re­con­nect­ing with Daisy, the one who got away five years ear­lier.

Mul­li­gan’s Daisy is more an idea than a fully fleshe­d­out per­son, but maybe that’s al­ways been the point.

Luhrmann’s adap­ta­tion, which he co-wrote with Craig Pearce, lacks the sense of melan­choly and long­ing that em­anated from the novel’s pages, even though the script in­vokes Fitzger­ald’s prose early and of­ten through voiceover from Tobey Maguire as our nar­ra­tor, guide and Fitzger­ald stand-in Nick Car­raway. Some­times the words pop right up on screen and linger in the air, but some­thing about hear­ing and see­ing them in this fash­ion de­pletes them of the power they pro­vide when we ex­pe­ri­ence them on the writ­ten page.

Gatsby, played with well-coifed panache by Leonardo DiCaprio, too of­ten comes off as a needy, clingy stalker rather than tragic fig­ure and vic­tim of the Amer­i­can dream. Luhrmann’s Gatsby doesn’t get that the book was a crit­i­cal look at a crum­bling dream.

The Great Gatsby opens to­day.

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