Friday, May 10, 2013

Gratuitous Excess: "The Great Gatsby"

   Baz Luhrmann is the latest director to take on the challenge of
bringing the American classic to the silver screen.  His
interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby”
turns a few swanky parties in the midst of wealthy Long Island towns
into a scene of chaos.
   The film is a flashback for Nick Caraway (Tobey Maguire).  He sits in
a sanatorium, reflecting on his summer in 1922 where he rented a
cottage in West Egg.  His neighbor, the notorious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo
DiCaprio), was known for throwing parties and not showing up to them.
After attending one of them out of sheer curiosity, Caraway gets
thrown into the world of chaotic excess and the secret-keeper to a
timeless love affair.  Caraway weaves together a memoir of his months
there, with Gatsby’s elusive nature as his focal point.
   Leonardo DiCaprio plays an awkward Jay Gatsby.  He is the ideal
pretty-boy Gatsby, who attempts to keep his cool and plays down his
wealth even though it’s impossible to ignore.  I couldn’t help but
laugh at how socially incompetent he was out and about, yet somehow
was able to brim with confidence with his “reassuring smile.”
Juxtaposing him with Maguire as his only friend was a good choice on
the director’s part. Casting overall wasn’t too bad.  Carey Mulligan
plays the airy Daisy Buchanan, a young woman torn between Gatsby and
her husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton).  The cast, however seemed as drawn
out as Caraway did in the sanatorium at some points.  The passion is
subtle, which doesn’t represent the beautiful words of Fitzgerald.
As every director has their own artistic licensing to put into a film,
Luhrmann left out some things.  First, Jordan Baker (played by
Elizabeth Debecki-Caraway’s love interest) didn’t play as big as a
role in the film as she did in the book.  Luhrmann also fails to show
their relationship as well.  Daisy Buchanan also was blonde in the
film, as she is a brunette in the novel.
Second, when we meet Jay Gatsby, the book depicts it as an
anti-climactic moment, as Caraway stumbles upon him by happenstance at
one of his parties.  Here, we met Jay Gatsby at one of the final
crescendos of “Rhapsody in Blue,” as confetti flew through the air,
fireworks boomed and he raised his glass in triumph.  Fitzgerald made
it seem like anyone could be Gatsby with how he introduces him.
Lurhmann glorifies Gatsby as soon as he takes over the silver screen.
He matches the rumors and build-up we see with an immense grandeur, as
oppose to in the novel.  Gatsby subtly slips into the crowd to meet
Caraway, highlighting the elusiveness of his character as oppose to
turning him into the big deal he really isn’t.
The film ended with Gatsby’s death and left out a good portion of the
last chapter of Fitzgerald’s book.  Once Gatsby dies, so does the
film.  We see no after-math for Caraway as his summer ends.
As Gatsby tells Caraway about his life whilst driving in his yellow
convertible, he speeds and races his way from West Egg to New York.
This was effective cinematographically speaking, as Gatsby’s life
takes twists and turns unexpectedly, from his younger days up to what
we see before us.
   Filmed in Real D 3D, audience members are able to hover above the
bustling New York City, and swoop down and around the luxurious Long
Island estates.  Luhrmann wanted to pull his viewers even more into
the scenes unfolding in front of them.  This was rather effective,
since there was so much going on.  Too much, actually.
   The party scenes depicted in “Gatsby” did a fine job of showing all
the spending the wealthy would do during the Roaring Twenties.  Here,
the excessive suddenly becomes too excessive.  The parties Gatsby
threw in this interpretation became almost too much.  They seem
exaggeratory, even for one of the wealthiest men on Long Island.
The scenes unfolded, showing a world beyond my wildest dreams.  They
were pretty satisfactory, and indeed a valiant effort to make up for
what was missing from to book.  Butlers were fishing martini glasses
out from the pool, women were dressed to the nines doing the
Charleston, and confetti flew in the air like a rainstorm.  What a few
opulent 1920’s parties should be are turned into endless nights of
chaos.  But then again, Gatsby led a life that was anything but
   Overall, I commend Luhrmann for his interpretation.  It was a bold
move, mixing in so many anachronistic aspects such as his soundtrack.
I wasn’t surprised, as Jay-Z was the executive producer of the film.
Caraway says in the film “you can’t change the past.”  However,
Luhrmann tries to with the rap music and excessive beats.  I may be no
historian, but I am pretty sure that big band jazz was the thing in
the 1920’s.  Some jazzy tunes had been slipped into the film,
including Cole Porter’s “Let’s Misbehave and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in
Blue,” which fit the era perfectly.  As far as Jay Z’s music choices
go, they just don’t fit in.
   The underlying theme of the 1920’s excessive nature consumes the film
overall.  It is pretty effective, but it becomes a distraction.  Even
though with an obscenely flexible budget making the opulent jazzy
parties come alive from Fitzgerald’s pages was accomplished in such a
flashy way, it takes away from what Fitzgerald really wrote.  “The
Great Gatsby” is the quintessential American Dream novel, and all the
glamour and glitz in this modernistic interpretation takes away from
what it is meant to be-a tale of hope, passion and repeating past.
   My rating? C+

No comments:

Post a Comment