Daisy: You always look so cool. The man in the cool, beautiful shirts.
From every high school in America to the big screen, The Great Gatsby is the story of everyman Nick who gets wrapped up in the reckless, consequence-free lifestyle of his wealthy cousin Daisy and her former lover, the mysterious Gatsby. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t end well. Never one of my favorite books, I went to see it because it seemed like the perfect movie for Baz Luhrmann, kind of like Moulin Rouge but with better plot construction. I even sprung for 3D. Unfortunately, it didn’t really seem like a step forward for him.
One of the first things they tell you in film school is never to use narration. Then, every student rattles off all the films that use narration well as an excuse for why they should be able to use it. Well, the best argument a teacher could use against it is this movie. Tobey Maguire’s narration is over everything. Everything. Why let the audience contemplate what the characters are thinking when you can have Maguire read huge chunks of the book that explain exactly what’s happening? Pro tip, I don’t need him to tell me that it seemed like Gatsby was reaching for something when I can see DiCaprio physically reaching toward the green light. I got it. It’s not rocket science. If about fifty percent of the narration had been cut, the emotion throughout would have been a lot stronger.
The other problem is that when I go to see a Luhrmann film, I want to see something visually stunning. Don’t get me wrong, everything looks beautiful and there are a few particularly stunning shots, but it’s nothing like his earlier films. He used to take risks and push the limits of what was acceptable. Romeo + Juliet is the most 90s looking movie you’ll see because of that. But while this movie is pretty, it isn’t daring. Even the Jay-Z produced soundtrack has issues. It’s at its best the few times it blends the jazz that challenged conventions in the 20s and the hip-hop that challenges conventions today. But for the most part, the soundtrack feels like it was assembled at random from a playlist of someone’s favorite songs with very little to tie them together.
With the powerful cast and beautiful sets, this movie should have been spectacular but Luhrmann’s attachment to the book came back to bite him in the end. Definitely a pass.