The Great Gatsby ** 1/2
In keeping with the overly romanticized roar of the 1920s, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby offers up a glittery eyeball-fuck of circumstantial pomp, a sexy win of a soundtrack and beautiful A-list people. Clocking in at a $51 million-dollar opening weekend, another Hollywood studio can once again claim relative blockbuster success.
Luhrmann, known for his musicality, unique vision and radical departures from tradition in earlier films like Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, serves it lukewarm and dialed in for Gatsby. In this flick, he misses an opportunity to draw out parallels to modernity and comes across as a cover band director, someone whose celebrated directorial ambitions coattail the mastery of others who came before him.
Luhrmann’s only addition was the invented frame bookending the story with a psychiatrist in a mental ward, which is the most played-out cliché in the history of storytelling.
Or maybe he just gave the people what they wanted.
For the most part, the plot sticks doggedly enough to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s enduring masterpiece of the same name; a story detailing the pratfalls of opulence, the lies we tell ourselves, the hopeful bravery of self-delusional love and a mysterious man named Jay Gatbsy.
Tobey Macguire assumes the role of quintessentially unreliable narrator Nick Carraway, a midwesterner who moves to Long Island only to play voyeur to a moneyed crew of acquaintances, driven by self-serving motivations, infidelities and unreachable expectations.
The rest of the cast shines hi-gloss surface appeal.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jay Gatsby, with Carey Mulligan as leading lady Daisy Buchanan, the classic foil for Helen of Troy. Add the beady eyes of Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan and Isla Fisher’s accent as Myrtle Wilson, and it’s safe to say everyone looked the part.
The costume design: gorgeous. The art direction: dizzying, with imagery that only occasionally feels heavy-handed. Pivotal scenes at the Plaza and Tom Buchanan’s Manhattan apartment are arguably stand-alone shorts, a genre of filmmaking that Luhrmann’s been focusing on as of late. Sadly, a good film demands to be more than a series of shorts.
As far as page-to-screen adaptations go, this one falls unbearably short; a flaccid and faltering homage to literary greatness. Perhaps less so for the unpaged masses, for whom watered-down eye candy may appeal. In bursts of fits and starts, the pacing stalls and the intensity warbles. The slow-motion whirl spins into mawkish cartoon.
The Great Gatbsy is a lackluster non-departure that leaves anyone with a fair to middling intelligence quotient wishing they’d stayed home, bought the soundtrack (featuring Lana Del Ray, Jay-Z, Fergie, Beyonce, Jack White in haunting renditions of covers and jazzed originals alike) and curled up with the book.