As we begin the Summer movie season, one of the first surprises of the year is Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. It was delayed from the holiday season last year, where it fit better. Now it will only be known as “that movie you had to watch with your girlfriend because you made her see Iron Man 3 and Star Trek 2.”
Now, you probably read the novel back in high school. You can’t be faulted for not ranking it as your favorite book ever. It’s actually kind of a depressing read. I think most English teachers would encourage their students to read Gatsby, followed by Old Man and the Sea and Brave New World, just to continue the depressed/jaded student stereotype. I would actually recommend that you do read the book before seeing this movie, or at the very least read the plot synopsis on wikipedia. It’s the one time I think it’s a good thing to know the plot in advance. When you know the important parts of the plot, you can sit back and let The Great Gatsby sink in.
Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is our narrator that introduces us to the roaring 20’s and to Gatsby himself. Upon his arrival to New York, Nick quickly gets entangled into the sordid lives of his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her two-timing husband Tom (Joel Edgerton). Living next door to Carraway is the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who is known for throwing lavish parties. As Carraway and Gatsby strike up a friendship, he finds that there is some unresolved history between Daisy and Gatsby. Before long, everyone’s perfect, leisurely lives start unraveling.
Now I know that Baz Luhrmann’s direction inspires either love or hate. I’m not his biggest fan. I thought the first half hour of Moulin Rouge was an overly-edited mess. Australia was half-decent until it was 14 hours long. Though I do have a strange fondness for Romeo & Juliet. If nothing else, the man knows how to use a soundtrack. He has an ear for crafting moods through odd-yet-fitting song choices.
The soundtrack of The Great Gatsby is one of its most defining aspects. It may sound odd to pair the music of Jay-Z with a 1920’s Lindy Hop house party (Great name for a band, BTW), but it absolutely works. Granted, there are going to be several members of the audience who are offended at the pairing of dubstep and a speakeasy, but it captures the frenzy and excitement of the 20’s club scene. If anything, I would have been happy to visit a few more parties, but instead Gatsby gets dark, maybe even too dark for most audiences.
General audiences may get upset watching this 140 minute movie. The trailers make it out to be an extended music video, but it matches the pacing of the book completely. In short, this movie drags at times. Though seeing Gatsby’s evolution as a character is worth sitting through.
I was disappointed at how Carraway was handled in this movie. I don’t think Maguire carries the emotional weight to handle a character of this type. I had high hopes for him early on as we follow his lower-class character into the bourgeoisie upper crust lifestyle. I even loved the literary bromance between he and Gatsby. But halfway through the movie, he ceased to be a character anymore. Instead, he just happened to be in the same room as everyone else, never thinking or acting for himself. I understand his role as the observer, but they built him up to play a big role and he ends up doing nothing special.
Dicaprio nailed the role of the insecure millionaire. He displayed the charm and mysterious nature of a self-made man who would risk it all for love. Carey Mulligan’s performance did feel a little forced. It was more an imitation of a 20’s socialite and felt unnatural. Though her performance did trick me into thinking that I actually like Daisy as a character. Joel Edgerton plays Daisy’s smarmy husband and is very believable. As scummy as his character is, he never loses his cool and always manages to be the better man because he was born with the upper-class status.
Now, after a few days thought, I still question whether this movie is for the general public. For the most part, I’d say no. If you’ve read the book or understand how slow literary pacing can be, then I fully recommend The Great Gatsby. It captures the spirit of the book completely. (It’s depressing) The biggest fault lies in the long running time. Some moviegoers are going to start fidgeting around the 2 hour mark.
As I said, I think it’s a good idea to know the plot summary of The Great Gatsby, so instead of being frustrated about when it’s going to end, you can sit back and enjoy how the entire story is told.
Do you need to see this is the theater? No. Is it a better movie than Iron Man 3? Yes, but it will make for a more enjoyable BluRay, than a theater experience. Also, whatever you do, don’t be tempted to see this in 3D. Why hasn’t 3D died yet? What’s next, War and Peace 3D?! I would say this is a strong rental, unless you like straight literary adaptations and the source material. Which I do, but most Summer audiences won’t.