“You can’t repeat the past.”
This is an idea that is central to The Great Gatsby. Yet outside the basic yes or no solutions, this 2013 adaption of the classic novel itself acts as an answer to that question — maybe you shouldn’t.
Everyone in New York shows up to his gigantic parties but nobody seems to know who Jay Gatsby is. That is, until up-and-coming bond salesman Nick Carraway, his neighbor, is caught up in the dream world Gatsby has created in order to woo an old flame of his, Daisy, Nick’s cousin now married to the inconsiderate sportsman Tom Buchanan. But can Gatsby’s dream become a reality and withstand harsh truth of the matter (his background and source of wealth) or is it doomed to be unattainable?
Having never read it, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s signature novel, The Great Gatsby, has only ever been described to me by the most reputable sources I know as “The Most Boring Book Ever Written”. While literature and film are different mediums to be sure, this movie, in spite of all its best efforts, can’t escape that defining aspect of the book.
Even with all its glitz, glamour, and visual splendor, The Great Gatsby is just plain boring. Instead of trying to adapt it as flashy eye candy with a modern twist, director Baz Luhrmann would have done much better for himself (and everyone else) by focusing on a tighter runtime and characters we care about.
I’m sure that the portrayal of these characters is faithful to the book, but the film does really nothing to give us any reason to care. That’s not to say the actors are bad — on the contrary, the cast is one of few things the movie has going for it.
DiCaprio delivers another serviceable and slightly above par performance as Gatsby (still not seeing an Oscar in his near future, though) but Joel Edgerton actually outshines him as Tom Buchanan, a role that ends up being more layered than the traditional dickbag villain thanks to his performance. Tobey Maguire jumps back and forth between believable and out of his league, but ultimately fits into the movie. And despite all her questionable role choices and performances, Carey Mulligan does justice to the fickle and dough-headed Daisy — as much as anyone can or should.
But instead of breathing new life into these characters, besides making them noticeably younger than previous interpretations, Baz Luhrmann is once again all about the visuals. The Great Gatsby most of the time comes off as one big Gatsby party, but just like the titular character’s celebrations, the true meaning is obscured and the movie ends up being more style than substance.
Why this incredibly dry book needed a 3D adaption is beyond me but it just calls more attention to the movie’s real focus: the party scenes. Delivering the kind of extravagant visuals one might expect from the director of Romeo+Juliet and Moulin Rouge, the energy felt in these parts is commendable but these scenes feel like high-energy asides, there only to regain the audience’s focus. The core of the story is lost in these vibrant little patchworks. Though I must admit, seeing Tobey Maguire get plastered early on is amusing enough in its own right.
Speaking of things that don’t fit, word was quick to spread about the decision to utilize a soundtrack by Jay-Z for the movie, focusing all on modern music with only some score repasted in here and there. It’s an interesting risk to be sure but it’s not one that paid off in any way. Forced parallels to the Roaring ’20s and our current society aside, the music does nothing to add to the story, often just flailing there, awkwardly.
When adding this to the overwrought visuals and lack of depth, The Great Gatsby comes off as no more than a two and a half hour music video.
It’s worth briefly mentioning the wonky editing and how often character’s words don’t match their mouths.
Yet even if these had been paid attention to in the editing bay, it wouldn’t for a minute change the fact that The Great Gatsby is a disjointed, hollow affair.