22 May 2013

Gatsby If You Can

I finally got to see Baz Luhrmann's long-waited interpretation of The Great Gatsby last night and although some of the reviews and comments had left me a little nervous, I enjoyed the film a lot. It's been a while since I read the book and I've never seen any of the movie adaptations, so I wasn't too worried about how well this new version would compare, but 2h20 of OTT opulence, Luhrmann style, might have been a bit much for a dull Tuesday evening at my local multiplex.

And Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby is a bit much. It's more than a bit much, in fact, but it kept me entertained throughout. As the film opens, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is in rehab writing his memoirs of those heady days of decadence on Long Island. He moves into a tiny cottage across the water from his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her wealthy, polo-playing husband Tom "I'm not the polo player" Buchanan (a perfectly cast Joel Edgerton), and is intrigued by his mysterious neighbour, Jay Gatsby, who lives in the Versailles-like palace next door. Nick is invited to one of Gatsby's legendary parties—unusually, given that everyone else just turns up uninvited—and keen to meet his elusive neighbour, he goes along.

The party as imagined by Luhrmann is a cross between a Cambridge May Ball, the Rio Carnival and Cancún during spring break. Sequin-clad flapper girls strut their stuff by the swimming pool to the beat of Jay Z, will.i.am and Beyoncé. Yes, modern music, innit. It took a little while to adjust to this, but I didn't mind it too much. It's about thirty minutes into the film before we actually see Gatsby's face. Some of the party guests speculate on who Gatsby really is and how he got his money; it reminded me a lot of this scene in Mean Girls. Anyway, eventually Leonardo DiCaprio shows up and he certainly looks the part, old sport.

Nick soon begins to get sucked into this world and, even as he looks back on this summer and everything that happened therein, he can't help but defend and admire Gatsby. Then he finds out that Gatsby has a past with Daisy and he agrees to organise a "chance" encounter between the two of them over tea at Nick's place. A chance encounter that involves about 300 bunches of flowers and about 20 cakes, among other things. Nick tells himself it's OK because Daisy's husband is screwing the car mechanic's wife Myrtle (Isla Fisher) and because Gatsby and Daisy are in love and are meant to be, and so on. One of the main love scenes takes place at one of Gatsby's shindigs, where Gatsby and Daisy sneak away into the gardens together. It might be 17 years later and it might be Carey instead of Claire, and Lana Del Rey and The xx playing instead of Desrée, but it's still Craig Armstrong playing the score and it's still a very similar scene visually, structurally and emotionally to the balcony scene in Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. The xx's Together is a gorgeous song, so the cheesiness of the moment didn't bother me as much as it might.

The R+J similarities continue. Most of the audience knows the tragic endings of both films, and in both, there is a point of no return, after which there will be mutually assured destruction. In Gatsby, there is a lot of slow-mo and a lot of sad music and sad, longing glances. Carey Mulligan is really good as the ethereal, troubled Daisy, and although I liked Leo's take on Gatsby (though he did look a little old to play 32), I don't think it was his strongest recent performance. Edgerton, as I mentioned, made a great Tom, with fantastic delivery and expressions. "Mr Gatsby, exactly who are you, anyhow?" he sneers, as it all starts to go down. I'm still not sure what to make of Maguire's performance. He certainly made an unsettling narrator at times, a product of his character's on-the-outside-looking-in-with-longing status.

So, yes, it's big. Yes, it's loud. Yes, it's amped up to the max (the scenes where the characters drive into Manhattan felt a little like the much-trailed Fast and Furious 6). Yes, it's flashy (and I only saw it in 2D). It's beautifully shot, though not everyone will enjoy Luhrmann's very stylised direction—but if you've seen any of his other films, you will know what you are getting yourself in for. As Daisy puts it early on in the movie, "all the bright previous things fade so fast." And after all the spectacle has died down, the viewer isn't left with a whole lot of substance. But with great costumes, great music, some good performances and a great show, I couldn't complain.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous06:32

    Nice review. As a movie in general, you aren't missing a whole lot.