Just got home from watching The Great Gatsby, so I figured why not give my two cents? This is not a recap, so there aren’t really any SPOILERS.
I will not do a comparison between the film and the book for this review. I have only read the book twice, and it has been three years since I’ve last read it. I will do my best to remember parts of it, but I honestly should have read the book again before watching the film.
Initially, after I saw the trailer for the first time, I was very excited to see Gatsby. I was at fist taken aback by how shiny everything looked, but I liked the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio and Carrey Mulligan as Gatsby and Daisy, and the more I saw the trailers they more my interest grew. My excitement for Gatsby crashed and burned the moment I learned who was directing the film: Baz Luhrmann. Luhrmann’s past films include Romeo + Juliet and The Moulin Rouge, and while I cannot say much about Romeo + Juliet (I haven’t seen it in eight years), I’m not a fan of The Moulin Rouge. I do not like his directing style. Luhrmann focuses primarily on the looks of the film rather than the content. Moulin Rouge is filmed to the brim with clichés, over acting, and character motives that don’t make sense. Not going to lie, his sets look amazing and I love looking at his films, however he makes the movie so fast-paced that the audience hardly has enough time to focus on one shot before it cuts away to another one.
Gatsby is no exception to Luhrmann’s directing style. We move through the movie like how Gatsby drives his car, carelessly and rushed. This became an issue when the film flies through certain important scenes, like the scene when Tom, played by Joel Edgerton, slaps Myrtle, played by Isla Fisher, in front of Nick and their friends. It just sort of happens while Nick narrates over it and the film promptly moves on. Tom breaks his mistress’ nose, but that’s not really important, let’s continue. It bothered me that Luhrmann felt the need to hurry scenes like this.
The first half of the film is definitely guilty of being fast-paced and full of glossy splendor. Honestly, everything in this movie, except for the “valley of ashes,” looks like it’s covered in shrink wrap or made of hard plastic. We shoot from one scene to the other of brilliant looking settings that switch off looking like real sets to CGI constructions. We are introduced to our narrator, Nick Carraway, played by Toby Maguire, a newcomer to New York City and neighbor of the mysterious Jay Gatsby. We aren’t introduced to Gatsby for a while, so in the meantime Nick goes on to meet with his cousin, Daisy, her husband Tom Buchanan, and Jordan Baker, played by Elizabeth Debicki.
I found the introduction of Daisy to be filmed rather awkwardly. Actually, both her and Gatsby are introduced rather laughably. Daisy’s revealing is through the use of excessive flowing white curtains and her giggling excitedly on a sofa, while oddly playing with her hands in the air above her head. I understand that there’s a white theme that surrounds Daisy throughout the novel, but I don’t really understand Luhrmann’s sense of direction here. I guess he thought it would appear “artistic,” but really it’s just odd. Gatsby’s revealing actually made me laugh out loud. He turns to Carraway while raising a glass in slow motion as fireworks explode in the air behind him. The addition of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” playing in the background of the scene, in an attempt to make the scene even MORE epic, was just too forced to not be funny.
Speaking of “Rhapsody in Blue,” the soundtrack for this film was so out of place, I found it distracting. All of the music done for this film is modern music done by current artists, such as Lana Del Rey, Florence + The Machine, Beyoncé, Gotye, Sia, will.i.am, Fergie, Nero, The xx, Andre 300, and more. The first few songs, “100$ Bill,” “Back to Black,” and “Bang Bang,” are rap/hip-hop songs and I don’t really know why. Why weren’t songs more suited for the time used? “Rhapsody in Blue” was actually composed during that time period, but the rest of the songs took me out of the film. The whole film felt like it was a 20’s themed college party rather than something that actually took place during the 20’s.
I did like the scenes depicting Gatsby’s parties. I loved how grand they looked, with all the people dancing, jumping into the pool, and dressed in those awesome 20’s dresses and suits. I wanted to partake in these parties rather than watch on the other side of a screen. These scenes made more sense with Luhrmann’s fast directing and editing style, so they were really the only scenes I enjoyed during the first half of the film. Only after Gatsby and Daisy finally meet again, which was a nice quiet scene, does the movie slow its pace and become a little more focused.
I liked the acting in this film. DiCaprio is a talented actor and he played Gatsby’s desperate love and frustration towards Daisy really well. I also liked Mulligan’s performance. I couldn’t help but compare her to Mia Farrow’s performance of Daisy in the 1974 adaption of the novel (which I hated). Farrow was very over the top with her performance, so over the top that I pretty much laughed at Daisy the whole time and found her annoying. Mulligan was far more subtle, and I felt a little sorry for her, having Gatsby pressure her to leave her husband and being confused by her feelings towards both men.
The only problems I had with casting and characters were Toby Maguire and Jordan Baker respectively. I didn’t like that Maguire was cast as Nick only because I don’t like his voice. Having to listen to him constantly talking in this monotonous tone during the entire film was almost unbearable. The problem I had with Jordan Baker was that she was a little inconsistent. She’s first portrayed as this uninterested character, nothing fazes her nor does she seem particularly engaged in anything. The next time she’s on screen she’s excited and overcome by Gatsby’s party and she suddenly has interest in Nick. Then the next time we see her she’s back to her bored expression and “whatever” attitude. I don’t remember if that’s how she was written in the book, but her portrayal here bugged me.
It’s 3:00am now and I’m finding it hard to stay awake and think of further opinions I have of this film. Overall, I knew I was going to be disappointed by the film before I saw it. I honestly believe that most of the film’s flaws are due to Luhrmann’s direction. I wish a better director was handed the film, perhaps then it could have been handled more steadily and had been better paced.