‘I was within and without, simultaneously attracted and repulsed’ claims Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway, a self-proclaimed wallflower. Perhaps audiences might feel the same, as they are thrown into Lurhmann’s fabulously disorientating adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
A film only comparable in its lavishness to one of Jay Gatsby’s parties, Lurhmann has spared no expense to make this movie a success. BAFTA-winning Craig Pearce took care of the screen play, Tiffany&Co. were invited in to create a custom range of jewellery, a crew of 350 was devoted to the visual effects alone, and just about every famous actress in Hollywood auditioned to play golden girl Daisy Buchanan (Rachel McAdams and Amanda ‘bug-eyed’ Seyfriend, to name just a couple).
Leonardo Di Caprio, Lurhmann’s 1996 Romeo, has been cast once again, this time as the brilliant Jay Gatsby, a man trapped in a hapless pursuit of his own Juliet. With his natural charisma and all-American good looks, he is a poster-boy for the American dream, making Gatsby’s rise to incredible success an almost believable feat. But he also manages to achieve those more vulnerable character facets: Gatsby in the rain, irresolute and nerve-wracked before his first meeting with Daisy; Gatsby shaking with rage in front of brutish Tom Buchanan; Gatsby waiting pitifully in the bushes in front of Daisy’s house.
Meanwhile, Tobey Maguire played Gatsby’s neighbour and confidante, Nick Carraway. I would expatiate on Maguire’s performance some more, but there is no need. He was neither good nor bad. Nick is a passive, ineffectual character in the novel, and there has been no apparent effort on the part of actor or director to develop this. The only noticeable expansion of Nick’s character lies in the creative license of screenwriter Craig Pearce, who added a somewhat superfluous framing narrative which portrays Nick as an alcoholic manic depressive, narrating the events of the film to his therapist.
Carey Mulligan shines in the role of Daisy. She becomes the ‘beautiful little fool’ that Daisy aspires to be, saucer-sized eyes full of naiveté as she breathlessly makes the audience fall in love with her. In her initial appearance on screen, she is represented solely by a beautifully-manicured hand flopped languidly over the back of a sofa, before the camera cuts to a shot of her reclining, ephemeral and delicate, amidst lily-white voiles in an opulent lounge room.
In a video interview for Tribute magazine, Lurhmann describes Daisy as ‘a hot house flower you want to protect’. In this, she contrasts wonderfully with androgynous female golfer Jordan Baker, played by Hollywood newcomer Elizabeth Debicki. Now I do love to favour the underdog, but I pay Debicki a deserved justice when I say that she is outstanding, unrelentingly faithful to the gossiping spectator character of Jordan, whose lithe figure slinks her way through this world with nothing but detached enjoyment.
Aside from the dazzling performances, Lurhmann’s ‘party’ scenes are spectacles in themselves. Ornate, 1920s flapper-style costumes are drowned in champagne showers and confetti; dancing girls twirl in the background, amidst white-tuxedoed waiters; fireworks colour the skies; painted faces blend together seamlessly in what socialite Jordan deems the most ‘intimate’ of occasions. And we’re suddenly lusting for this thrilling world, instantly convinced of the almighty, irresistible power that consumerism represents.
A further testament to Lurhmann’s perfectionism is his decision to put back the release date six whole months in order to perfect the 3D filming of his masterpiece; an intriguing decision, because it meant sacrificing the strategic Oscars season of films released around Christmas. When interviewed about this, Lurhmann emphasises, in a characteristic Aussie drawl, his belief that 3D is what Fitzgerald, a man of ‘modernity’, would have wanted. Unfortunately, I can’t commend Luhrmann for this; it just doesn’t add anything. With a series of crane shots and Lurhmann’s ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ love of short takes, I feel the film has enough psychedelic factor without throwing in a bunch of shooting stars and all-too-realistic audience experience of dangerous driving. Notably, the scene towards the start of the film, where Tom Buchanan charges before his mansion on horseback, is so over the top that it seems like a Nintendo game. With too little ‘action’ to highlight, the 3D effect quite literally jumps out from nowhere.*
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is just as sensational and star-studded as the film itself. The best of hip hop from Jay Z and Kanye West, a gorgeous power ballad Over The Love from Florence and the Machine, and a jazz cover of Beyonce’s Crazy in Love from Emeli Sandé. Not to mention a sexy synth-heavy cover of late Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black by Beyonce and Andre 3000, plus Daisy’s anthem, Young and Beautiful, sung by the gorgeous Lana Del Rey (who, if she could act, wouldn’t be a bad choice to play Daisy Buchanan herself).
I think all fans of Fitzgerald can breathe a sign of relief: Lurhmann has done a marvellous job. Whether you were one of the multitude of sixth formers to read Fitzgerald’s novel at A-level, a fan of Baz Lurhmann’s previous work (Moulin Rouge, Romeo&Juliet, etc), or just a general lover of excellent films, I would thoroughly recommend that you go and see The Great Gatsby soon.
*Incidentally, I do think that film directors need to think carefully about the ‘marmite’ reception that 3D films receive from audiences. Snogging teenagers, for instance, will resent the inconvenience of a cumbersome pair of 3D glasses, whereas some audience members just find the viewing experience unpleasant; my mother, for one, claims that the 3D effect makes her feel ‘seasick’. In any case, if a film has nothing akin to Ang Lee’s pouncing tiger in Life of Pi, then, honestly, I can sacrifice a third dimension.
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