I’ve waited years for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby to be released. Not only am I a longtime fan of Luhrmann’s flamboyant directorial style, but F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels of all time.
Overall, I liked the movie very much. My preconceived notions about the beloved novel would be difficult for any director to successfully achieve, so I’m not surprised to have felt a bit dissatisfied by the film.
I had hoped Luhrmann would either transform the story into something so gloriously over the top so as to be unrecognizable and new, or stay completely true to the original. He chose to do something in between and, unfortunately, the result was a bit disjointed.
The film is visually stunning (and I didn’t even see the 3D version) and the beginning is as entertainingly lavish and carnival-like as the previews. But the hip-hop and dance soundtrack (which you can stream below) just didn’t mesh with the 1920s vibe. The reason modern music worked so well in Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet was because he placed the Bard’s play in a present-day setting. He left Gatsby back in its original era, so the music felt very out of place. I think a better choice for the soundtrack would’ve been either remixes and covers of classic jazz songs (Beyonce’s cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” was the one song that did work) or new music by retro acts like Sharon & the Dap-Kings and Fitz & the Tantrums.
As much as I like Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan in other films, they just weren’t the Gatsby and Daisy of the novel. Whether that was the fault of the screenplay, direction or the actors themselves, they just didn’t seem comfortable in their characters’ skins. I felt very conscious that I was watching Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan rather than getting caught up in what is one of the greatest and most tragic love stories in American literature. I hate to say it, but I think DiCaprio may simply be too old to portray the irrepressibly optimistic and starry eyed Gatsby. Of course, the same was true for Robert Redford and his film has been the definitive edition until now.
Though I must hand it to both Baz Luhrmann and Carey Mulligan, they added an emotional depth to Daisy’s character that is not found in the novel. I’ve personally always thought Daisy Buchanan was one of the most vapid, selfish and unlikable characters in all of literature, but Mulligan actually gave her a touch of sympathy.
The good news is that Baz Luhrmann was surprisingly effective in capturing the elements of the novel I loved best.
Tobey Maguire was the absolute perfect choice for narrator Nick Carraway, really I can’t think of anyone who could have inhabited the character better. He did a brilliantly subtle job of portraying Carraway’s duelling sense of wonder and loneliness, which is the true heart of the novel. It’s not Gatsby that makes the novel great, it’s Carraway. Carraway may be in awe of Gatsby and his glittering world, but he also sees the hypocrisy in both and stands by Gatsby when no one else does.
Maguire’s narration brings some of Fitzgerald’s best lines to the film, such as “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life” and, of course, the novel’s last two gorgeous, poignantly poetic paragraphs.
Even the book’s iconic original cover makes a cameo in Luhrmann’s film – in the form of the billboard Fitzgerald added to the story after seeing his novel’s cover art.
The film’s ending was excellent and beautifully executed, it could not have been better or truer to the original text.
So all in all, I definitely liked it. I do wish there’d been a smoother transition from the bombastic circus beginning to the heartfelt literary end, but my complaints are minor and will really only matter to obsessive fans of Fitzgerald’s novel such as myself. Brendan, for example, had never read the novel and he liked the film much more than I did.
Whether you like Baz Luhrmann and/or The Great Gatsby or neither (in which case I question your taste!), I recommend seeing the movie. If for no other reason than to encourage a bit more intelligence in cinema – I was very happy to read that The Great Gatsby did so well its opening weekend. It’s certainly on a higher level than all the other summer blockbuster drivel currently in theaters.