Gatsby? What Gatsby?

Watching Baz Lhurmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby felt like hearing your grandmother say you can gaze at an interesting display of tiny figurines in a snow globe. But you can’t – under any circumstances – hold it or shake it or experience the magic: visually sumptuous yet not guaranteed to fill the void.

Told through the eyes of a bonds salesman and soon-to-be writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), it chronicles his experience in New York on summer of 1922 as he lives in a cottage beside a castle-like estate owned by a mysterious millionaire named Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Little by little, Nick realises why Gatsby’s mansion being located right across the property of his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) was no coincidence.

The cast delivered well-executed performances yet antagonist characters so central in the novel were not given an opportunity to excel.

  • DiCaprio shined as a little boy trapped in a body of a suave gentleman with a rather impossible dream but he seems quite unsure of what his accent should sound like.
  • As a Southern belle whose angelic face seamlessly masks the crassness of her true character, Mulligan’s charismatic glow stolen Gatsby’s fragile little heart.
  • Narrating the story as an outsider looking in, Maguire’s naivety and sensitivity was disarming.
  • However, minor characters like Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan and his mistress Myrtle lacked character development.
  • The romance between Nick and Daisy’s best friend Jordan Baker, a source of tension in the novel, was unfortunately non-existent in the film.

Same as Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge and Australia, settings were impressive, majestic even – rich in colour and elaborate details. From the vain extravagance of Gatsby’s mansion to the gloom and doom of the Valley of Ashes, various juxtapositions reveal the paradoxes that truly encapsulate the tone of the roaring twenties.

But the aesthetics sometimes took the spotlight away from the stars of the film. Also, there weren’t many action scenes or grand visual effects a la Inception hence seeing it in 3D appeared to be a distraction more than anything else.

Great Gatsby

The highly anticipated soundtracks did not fit the puzzle. Sure, Lana del Ray and Florence & The Machine’s voices are hauntingly beautiful but it did not quite fall into place. Choosing contemporary songs exhibited Luhrmann’s bravery, yet overall the songs only highlighted the distinction and vast distance between our time and the Jazz Age… when the goal was to recreate the latter.

There were several crucial moments where the scene should have lingered a bit longer to let audience soak up intense feelings and absorb the weight of Gatsby’s stare. Instead, it rushed off to the next spectacle of a party resembling a musical number. Whilst it was more than two hours long, it felt as though Luhrmann crammed too much colour but not enough emotion.

This version was certainly amusing, it had potential – everything was set. But the mix of elements resembled a French Macaron recipe that had gone wrong, it seemed easy but difficult to perfect. Luhrmann remained more or less faithful to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel yet somehow missed the essence of it.

Fitzgerald’s iconic piece was a tapestry of meticulously interwoven words bound by a common hedonistic yet enigmatic nature. Luhrmann’s work was vivid and grand but was devoid of the cunning ways in which Fitzgerald enslaved your senses as you so willingly hang on to his every word.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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