Baz Luhrmann is famous for his fantastical set and costume design. Satine dazzled us in the glitzy Moulin Rouge and two star crossed lovers broke hearts in the mesmerising Romeo and Juliet. His turn at directing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel feels like his pièce-de-résistance as he goes all out to conjure up something so breath-takingly extravagant it will leave you wishing you were around in the 1920’s to soak it all up for real, although I don’t think the music would be provided by Jay-Z.
Leonardo Di Caprio plays the elusive Jay Gatsby with every ounce of charm he emulates in the novel. He is handsome, rich and able to melt your heart with one tiny look. He is the perfect Gatsby. Tobey Maguire plays Nick Carroway, the voice of the film and Carey Mulligan is the beautiful, playful Daisy Buchanan. The story starts as Nick is trying to tell his psychiatrist about Gatsby, struggling to find words, he suggests writing things down and thus the story begins. Nick moves to the small fictional town of West Egg in Long Island, he discovers that his next door neighbour is a secretive but well known character called Gatsby. He is famous for throwing extravagant parties at his mansion and many stories shroud his mysterious demeanour. Across the water, in East Egg, lives Nick’s cousin Daisy with her husband Tom. Nick learns that Tom is having an affair with a monstrous woman who lives in the ‘valley of the ashes’ which is a nice way of saying a junk yard. During the summer, Nick gets an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties to which he attends and is overwhelmed at the delicacies that are on offer to him, for free. Gatsby takes quite a liking to Nick and the two of them strike up a friendship and go on several outings together and he learns that he once had a relationship with Daisy. Wanting to rid Daisy of her cheating husband Nick arranges for the two to meet again and they fall back in love and have another secretive affair.
The events that follow take a tragic turn as Tom accuses Gatsby of bootlegging alcohol and tries to run him out of town leading to the films heart wrenching finale as the lavish world around him starts crumbling down. The novel penned by F. Scott Fitzgerald is considered to be one of the great American novels, defining an era and providing a glimpse into the downside of the American Dream, it is so full of heart and soul which is what is missing greatly in this film adaptation. Of course, Luhrmann has managed to create an exquisite world for these characters to jaunt around in, he just hasn’t been able to provide them with the depth that Fitzgerald has done in his novel.
One of the things that bothered me the most about The Great Gatsby was the soundtrack. Luhrmann often uses modern music in his films as demonstrated beautifully in the use of Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana in Moulin Rouge which is one of my personal favourite reprises in the whole film. However, I felt like the film deserved a more obvious nod to the music of the era, which is some of the greatest music in history. The use of Lana Del Ray and Florence and the Machine failed to twist the jazz genre of the 1920’s into something that felt comfortable or natural. The use of modern music in his other films has worked to an extent, but this time I just wasn’t feeling it, it was not memorable enough but was so in your face you couldn’t ignore it.
Be that as it may, there is no denying that The Great Gatsby is an absolute marvel to watch, a real feast for the eyes, as they say. So much so, costume and production designer for the film Catherine Martin scooped two Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards for her efforts and deservedly so. The costumes are mind blowingly beautiful, especially the dresses of Daisy Buchanan. If there was any solid reason to become an actress it would be to be clothed by Catherine Martin. Exquisite, breath taking and enviable. As is the set design itself. You have to see it to believe it, my ramblings will not do it justice!
Leonardo Di Caprio breezes through the film as Jay Gatsby with Tobey Maguire following suit, if it hadn’t been for their solid performances, the narrative would have fallen flatter than a pancake. Despite the brilliance of the source text, it’s transference to film has never been particularly successful. Some things are best left to the imagination, but Luhrmann sure does give it one hell of a re-awakening.
What it lacks in substance it makes up for in style and The Great Gatsby oozes it from start to finish.
The Great Gatsby premieres Saturday, March 15 and airs throughout the remainder of the month and can be found on HBOGo.