The Great Gatsby Review: A Bombastic But Weightless Adaptation

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F. Scott Fitzgerald just turned in his grave.

About 20 minutes into Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby I had to stop comparing it to the novel. The book I detested in high school when my English teacher forced it upon me. The same book, that through maturity and new outlooks I had grown to adore.

No, this film is not an adaptation of the novel. It has the same characters and events. Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) still lives next door to Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) in West Egg, just outside of New York City in the 1920s. Gatsby still longs for Nick’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and reaches for the green light at the end of her dock in East Egg.

But for it to really be a true adaptation it would have to explore the essence of what Fitzgerald did as an author. Whether they fail or not that’s what adaptations do.

So despite the powerful gleams DiCaprio gives as the titular character, despite Joel Edgarton being perfect as Tom Buchanan, this film is not The Great Gatsby as I know it.

It’s best that you know that going in and just don’t even try. With that in mind, you might find some clever things going on.

Like the music. This film dares to insert Jay-Z and Beyonce into the Jazz Age, and it is a miraculous success. In some ways it is a reminder that Fitzgerald’s story is timeless, and accompanies the party scenes with a belonging gusto.

The first party that Nick attends of Gatsby’s is the best scene in the film because that is the first time it slows down enough to grab your attention. Up to that point the movie is basically a large montage of backstory that is really difficult to ingest without a second to breathe. The party, while not exactly a slow scene, finally shows that Luhrmann did in fact graduate film school. It’s the only sequence where the bombarding style and prose mesh.

But it’s all downhill from there. Everything is big. Bigger than the story itself, robbing it of every moment of subtlety. Maguire is in poor form here, narrating the whole shebang as if every moment is the most important thing that ever happened. Mulligan, while not bad, is just forgettable as Daisy.

It appears that all the work here went into the style, which is overbearing for the most part, although occasionally gorgeous. Not one dramatic moment hits like Luhrmann intends it to because he hits you over the head with emotion before and after the actual event. It makes for a boring mess.

Just the party scene is capable of capturing the majesty that great auteurs are capable of. I guess every dog has his day. But a quarter of an hour in a two and a half hour film is next to nothing.

The film just doesn’t really have any merit as a standalone work. Let alone an adaptation of a classic. Grade: D+

By Matt Dougherty

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