THE GREAT GATSBY
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan
The Roaring Twenties were a time when excess reigned and philanthropy ensued. Just moments before the world would come crashing down economically, the young and restless were all but game for lavish parties, jubilant celebrations, elaborate clothing, and debonair language. F. Scott Fitzgerald perfectly exuded each and every aspect of the great time in his classic American novel The Great Gatsby.
The story is one that many are familiar with. Having been required reading for most high schoolers in the past 50 years, the story of the mysterious Jay Gatsby, his fortune, and his love for the sweet and innocent Daisy Buchanan is more than just a character study, but an all out history lesson of a time we've never seen again, but told through elegance and class. Some snored through their literature courses, giving no second thought to the imagery of the green light shining in the distance, while others grasped ahold of the analogous plot and memorable people. As a high school English teacher myself, the junior class studied Fitzgerald's masterpiece and surprisingly grew to love each moment, good or bad. By the end of the book they each had their favorite characters and favorite moments. Our class turtle was even given the name of Myrtle. When we had to say goodbye to the turtle, it was an interesting throwback to a similar demise of the novel's character.
When it was announced a few years back that Baz Luhrmann had garnered the rights to Fitzgerald's piece, people were torn on whether the unique director of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! would do the story justice. Though Gatsby and his parties were over-the-top lavish events, Luhrmann's knack for loud color and extreme independence from form had many afraid that the result would be style over substance. Luckily for Luhrmann, though, he assembled a cast of Hollywood heavyweights who could understand and appropriately display the inner workings of some of literature's most famous faces.
Leonardo DiCaprio was the first cast, as the elusive Gatsby. The Oscar nominee has proven throughout his career that he can carry a film of any caliber with his ability to transform into each character he plays. As Gatsby, DiCaprio demands respect and allure from the audience, just as the mystery around him earns the same from his partygoers.
As the story's narrator, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is one of the more connected characters in the story. His task of meeting and learning who this Gatsby is allows us to follow along in just as much wonder. While Nick seems innocent, his experience and independence allows him the freedom to roam as he pleases. This free spirit comes across as ignorant, but in reality he's just excited about experiencing this new culture of suburban New York.
Carey Mulligan, as Daisy Buchanan, plays the leading lady part to point. The soft voice and features light up with each and every moment she's on screen. When she first sees Gatsby in Nick's home her eyes tell everything is thinking and the deep breath she takes is telling enough of the emotions she's feeling.
Luhrmann's directing style has always divided audiences and critics and The Great Gatsby is no stranger to this, already. The soundtrack, produced by Luhrmann with Jay-Z, is a blend of "Charleston"-esque big band and modern hip hop. With indie tunes by the xx, Florence + the Machine, and Lana Del Rey mixed with covers of Amy Winehouse (by Beyonce and Andre 3000) and Jay-Z himself, the sounds are a clever addition to the already-tantalizing images on the screen.
I took my class to see the film opening day. We watched it in its intended 3D format and the overall response was that there were some cool moments, but it was overall a little distracting. While the word "distracting" is usually tossed around by some after seeing a Luhrmann film, the distracting moments didn't take away from the overall experience, actually adding to the over-the-top lifestyle of Gatsby.
The Great Gatsby has been adapted before and will probably be adapted again, but it'll take a lot to top the outlandish beauty of this version. The most famed version before was the 1974 rendition with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. While that film was full of period style, it lack a certain excitement and adventure. Luhrmann makes up for it with big music, big effects, big actors, and a big feel.
When the credits began rolling and the image of the green light faded into the distance and Lana Del Rey's haunting "Young and Beautiful" still playing in our heads, the students and I felt (for the most part) like the story we had come to appreciate was respectfully adapted into a moving and exciting movie. They did pick up on a few moments that were left out of the film (most notably Gatsby's father in the novel not making it into the film), but were overall satisfied. With praise such as "fantastic movie", "I loved it", and "Leonardo DiCaprio was perfect as Gatsby", I'd say it was a hit with the audience that the book is seemingly intended for.
I'll leave it up to you if you want to spend the extra dollars on 3D (I didn't mind it, but I also didn't feel it was necessary), but I definitely think it's a refreshing addition to the summer movie lineup. It's smart, sophisticated, and classy, without being overly stuffy or boring. It's a serious film full of entertainment. It's definitely worth the ride.
Runtime: 142 minutes