Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Pretty Good Gatsby

I distinctly remember when it was announced that Baz Luhrman would be directing a new screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby.  People were rejoicing over the reunion between Lurhman and his Romeo + Juliet star Leonardo DiCaprio, but then Luhrman announced it was going to be in 3D.  Whaaaaat?!  The greatest American novel in 3D?  That's absurd!  That's stupid!  Lurhman is going to destroy F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic!  Never fear. 

Luhrmann's Gatsby is one of the most faithful film adaptations I've seen in a long time.  I read the book in the twelve hours before the movie started so it was incredibly fresh in my mind.  Sometimes I can become very bored watching a film adaptation upon first viewing, but I was in awe of how similar the movie was to the book.  Maybe I thought Luhrmann was going to do something extreme and imprint his own "artistic vision" onto the Fitzgerald's masterpiece.  The novel is a tenth grade staple (even though I never read it in high school), so exasperation greets a lot of reactions to yet another adaptation of The Great Gatsby

For those of you didn't find the book in high school, I will do a quick recap.  DiCaprio now inhabits the title character, the mysterious man that fascinates novice New Yorker Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire).  Nick's cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) lives with her husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton) in old money East Egg.  She has a romantic past linked with Gatsby that is just bubbling and ready to erupt.  Tom, meanwhile, occasionally runs into the city to play with his own young thing, Myrtle (Isla Fisher).  Nick lives in a small cottage next door to Gatsby in "new money" West Egg.  Drinks are poured, flappers flap, and Luhrmann pours on the excess.

Even though the movie is very faithful to the source, Luhrmann adds something that I despised.  In order for Nick to tell his story, they put him in a sanitarium.  Apparently, the continuous drinking turns him into an angry mess by the end of his tale, but I didn't buy it.  A doctor encourages Nick to write his stories down in order to deal with his emotions, and thus, this Gatsby begins.  I don't buy it for one second.  Every time they cut back to him feverishly writing in a notebook, it instantly took me out of the story.  Other than that, I love almost everything on screen.  

I forgot how charismatic DiCaprio can be.  That man looks damn fine in a nicely tailored suit, especially when he's lovelorn and clean shaven.  He can even rock a pink suit better than anyone else.  Leo's Gatsby isn't as mystifying as I thought it would be.  He is simply a man searching for how to attain the one thing he doesn't want to lose again.  

I am not the biggest fan of Carey Mulligan, and I wondered how she would fare as Daisy Buchanan.  I liked Mulligan in An Education, but I have always thought she always looked to dour and sad.  The good news is that she delivers a Daisy that is warm, hysterical and captivating.  Tobey Maguire is all right.  Whenever I think of him, all I can see is him typing away in that plot device that drives me bonkers.  Joel Edgerton, as Tom, delivers one of the better performances. 

The look of the movie is breathtaking.  Catherine Martin, Luhrmann's wife, handled the costumes and the production design, and she has done beautifully.  Martin won two Oscars for Moulin Rouge! and I have an inkling that her work here will at least be nominated.  Those dresses!  Those parties!  

Lurmann's frantic style unnerved me for the first twenty minutes.  I thought he was going to go overboard and have people move in fast forward or add sound effects, but he never does.  That uneasiness eventually settles, and everything calms down.  The story finally settles after Gatsby and Daisy are reunited in Nick's cottage on a rainy afternoon.  The scene is sweet and a tad goofy (probably my favorite in the whole movie), and you could feel the audience swooning.  

All quibbles aside, Luhrmann really respects the material.  The movement and gestures are pretty much cut-and-pasted from the book.  The sanitarium device that I am so fond of serves as a way for the voiceover to retain the beauty of Fitzgerald's prose.  I did find the ending to be stark and sad.  

But was I sad for Leo or for Gatsby?  Cheers, old sport.

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