There are three things you should know about The Great Gatsby going in:
1) It’s in very pretty 3D. More than two people ran out of the theater during the first minutes of the advance press screening because they didn’t grab their glasses at the door, blissfully unaware that that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of disillusionment with the Jazz Age and 1920s high society would involve 3D flappers lip synching directly to the camera along with Jay-Z tracks. 2) Leo looks great and fills the role terrifically. Director Baz Luhrmann (who helped make him a superstar with 1996’s Romeo + Juliet) clearly knows how to dress and film this guy. And
3) Everything else blows about it.
If Michael Bay had joined the theater club in high school, he would have ended up as Baz Luhrmann. Earlier this month, we saw Bay’s version of a down-to-earth character study in Pain & Gain, which, despite a solid true story of bumbling bodybuilder identity thieves, still involved a waddling fat guy yelling, “It shot right out of my ass!”
Similarly, Luhrmann’s take on Fitzgerald’s slow reveal of the hollowness of the Roaring ’20s through fun-but-vapid parties based around lies and warped visions of identity apparently never got past the word “party.” More on that later.
First, a note about adaptations.
If you’re making Jurassic Park, by all means, give the scientist a smaller role to make more room for the dinosaurs. When you’re making V for Vendetta, it’s a good move to shift the tone to Bush-era America instead of the original 1980s vision of what a fascist England might be. Please, make Peter Parker’s web-shooting organic instead of technological.
These films peel away obstacles that prevent the audience from connecting with the story’s central themes. But Luhrmann doesn’t shift the focus: he ignores and avoids the point, even when the dialogue is quoted directly from the novel. I can just imagine him adapting All Quiet on the Western Front with epic battle scenes, the heroic triumphs of the German patriotic spirit, and maybe a line or two at the end about how war kinda sucks sometimes.
Ignoring the fact that apparently the only parts of the book that Luhrmann even read were the first 20 pages and the last 10,
it’s still just a bad movie. Even if you didn’t like Moulin Rouge!, it’s not hard to appreciate the fun that some people find in it. It’s bright, colorful, fast, just witty enough, with a dumb plot that is forgivable because the point is the spectacle and the entertainingly anachronistic renditions of modern pop songs.
Now, imagine that same movie but with dialogue from The Great Gatsby, right down to the, “I haven’t shaved, so clearly I’m a depressed alcoholic now,” montage.
The characters don’t make any sense; Nick Carraway, one of the great narrators in all of fiction, is just some guy who’s happy until he’s not anymore. The removal of Daisy’s shallowness somehow makes her less interesting and tragic.
But gosh, is Leo pretty.
THE GREAT GATSBY | RATED PG-13 | WIDE RELEASE