Having endured Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatbsy, one can only assume his introduction to the novel must have went something like this:
Caught short in a grim toilet cubicle, he despairs midway through, noticing the lack of toilet paper. Spying a discarded copy of the novel left by a previous traveler, he opens the first page and delves headlong into the narration of naive dreamer Nick Carraway. “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”
With the briefest of pauses, Luhrmann rips out the page and uses it to wipe his arse. I’m fairly certain that’s as close as he ever got to examining the text.
Gone are the subtleties and longing, almost poetic prose of this oft-heralded great American novel, borne back ceaselessly into the vacuously camp glitz and gaudy glamour of Luhrmann’s ever-decreasing artistry.
Yes, it would be a mistake to expect anything more of this permanently sugar high director, but at the very least you’d hope for big, dumb fun, rather than this soulless, mangled affair.
Tobey Maguire makes for a dreadful Carraway, dead behind the eyes and stumbling moronically through the central role by which we spy upon this tragic tale, like a less-engaging parody of his Peter Parker from the original Spider-Man trilogy.
In a recurring theme, his introduction is cack-handedly mangled. Luhrmann takes it upon himself to tack on a hideously laboured epilogue/prologue that sees Carraway confined to a sanatorium for excessive alcoholism, seemingly oblivious to the character’s redemptive curve.
To make matters worse, Luhrmann resorts to the car-crashingly brutal cliché of having Carraway ‘write’ the novel as part of his therapy, canabalising his own plot from Moulin Rouge, complete with heinous floating text on screen to highlight IMPORTANT scenes.
It’s all downhill from there on in. When we do dive headlong into the hedonistic world of NYC and Gatsby’s wild parties on the West Egg of Long Island, the relentless sledge hammering reigns, with blurred camera pans whizzing across cartoony panoramas cut so fast as to create a nauseatingly dizzying and deeply unsatisfying affair.
The same is true of those show-stopping parties. You never get a chance to ogle on anything long enough, left with little more than a streak of glitter burned permanently onto your retina. The 3D effects, a gimmick at the best of times, are completely superfluous, and the anachronistic soundtrack from the likes of Beyonce, Jay-Z and the XX falls flat on its arrogant face. So, yes, Luhrmann’s even screwed up the excess.
Carey Mulligan is one of the film’s few saving graces as the delicate and yet manipulative Daisy Buchanan, making the most of this sorry affair with pained, doe-like eyes that desperately cling to the unraveling tragedy lost somewhere in this crass sea of almost incessantly blaring incidental music.
And yet her introduction is also a painful affair, as she writhes on the sofa with Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki) in a Vaseline-smeared soft-porn cloud of billowing curtains that seems to channel Mills & Boon more than Fitzgerald. Baker, an icily cool cat in the novel, is almost inconsequential in this adaptation, with Debicki never managing to enthuse her with any weight, instead opting for girlish whimsy.
But the most awful scene in all the movie is the unwittingly hilarious introduction of Leonardo DiCaprio as the elusive Jay Gatsby himself. Wholesale ripping off Woody Allen, he’s announced to the strains of Rhapsody in Blue, exposing the depth of Luhrmann’s egomania and lack of original thought.
Leo turns to camera with all the overblown ridiculousness of internet sensation Dramatic Chipmunk (an uncanny likeness) set against an apocalypse of fireworks, just in case you missed its import.
Horrifically miscast, Leo is egged on by Luhrmann’s belligerent sensibilities to simultaneously overreact and yet entirely underwhelm for the majority of his screen time.
The first kiss between Gatsby and Daisy, far from Leo’s enchanting encounter with Clare Danes in Luhrmann’s infinitely more palatable Romeo + Juliet, comes across here as awkward and tawdry, and is further hamstrung by the god awful floodlighting.
Isla Fisher’s flame-haired Myrtle is almost entirely excised from the film, so her pivotal role in the final act’s descent into disaster is shrugged off by an audience that neither comes to know her, nor care. The fact they saw fit to signpost her final scene in the sodding trailer already beggars belief.
Joel Edgerton, as Daisy’s menacing brute of a husband, delivers a stoic performance, and his clashes with Gatsby lead to the one genuinely good scene as they finally bring their brutal dance to a head in a room at the Plaza, but it’s far too late in the game.
I wanted to love this film, but as a sook known to cry at particularly moving adverts, I never once felt a sliver of any discernible emotion in over two hours of this overblown farce.
Stephen A Russell