‘Great Gatsby’ an event in itself

Published 10:58 am Saturday, May 11, 2013

Ever since I saw the trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s (Moulin Rouge) new film The Great Gatsby, I have been anxiously awaiting its May 10, 2013 release. Being that May 10 is also my birthday, is it bad that I was more excited to see the film than to celebrate my birthday? After all, not only is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby an American classic, but star Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic) is one of the best actors working today, and Luhrmann, with his whimsical, over-the-top style is one of my favorite directors. Thankfully I was NOT disappointed. The Great Gatsby, so far, has been my favorite film of the year (though I am a sucker for exaggerated Baz Luhrmann productions… and Leo). Not to mention, this is certainly the best Gatsby film to date.

While the film sticks very closely to many scenes in the book, die-hard Gatsby fans (and movie critics) may be a little turned-off by the 3D effects, “chaotic” camera movement, and modern music. However, these are some of the elements that I enjoyed the most and what helps define it as a Baz Luhrmann film. I really appreciate directors who bring their own style to a production, and like Tim Burton, Luhrmann certainly has his own identifiable style. As shown through his previous movies, like Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet, Luhrmann excels at bringing older stories into the modern day. Sweeping camera movements give his films the epic quality they deserve while also helping the audience feel they have been transported back in time. It’s interesting that most of his films center around tragic love stories.

For all of you who were not forced to read The Great Gatsby in English class, here is a quick Sparknotes synopsis of the plot. The story begins in 1922 with our narrator, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire). He is a bond salesman, who recently moved to a small cottage in West Egg (Long Island), a fictional neighborhood of the nouveau riche. Carraway knows no one in the area, except for his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who lives across the water in the uppity, rich East Egg community with her philandering husband Tom (Joel Edgerton).

Carraway’s loneliness is only compounded when he sees the extravagant parties thrown by his rich, yet mysterious neighbor, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), in his Xanadu-esque mansion; anyone who is anyone drives out to West Egg each weekend for these parties. Finally, one morning Carraway is delighted to find a man at his door holding a personal invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties. As he comes to find out, however, no one ever receives an invitation to Gatsby’s parties; they just show up. Why would Gatsby take the time to personally invite him? Was this a nice, neighborly gesture or does Gatsby have ulterior motives? Although the book has been out for almost a century, and you may already know the answers to these questions, I will keep the spoilers in this review to a minimum. However, I will suggest that you not only see this film opening weekend, but also read the novel. I remember enjoying The Great Gatsby when I read it in high school, but this time when I read it, I LOVED it.

Perhaps the most entertaining aspects of the film were its mind-blowing scenery, set design, and costumes (designed by Luhrmann’s wife Catherine Martin). These elements make you feel as though you are living in the roaring ‘20s along with the characters. It’s amazing that the movie was filmed in Sydney, Australia and not New York City. As opposed to many other “3D” films that are converted to 3D in post-production, Luhrmann shot The Great Gatsby with actual 3D camera lenses. This adds incredible life and depth to the film. Though cheesy, I even enjoyed the way Luhrmann projected written representations of Fitzgerald’s words onto the screen, giving the book’s written words the nod they deserve.

Not only is the production of the film fantastic, but the acting is extraordinary as well. Each role was expertly cast from an all-star roster of actors. Unfortunately, some of the actors, mainly Isla Fischer (Confessions of a Shopaholic) and Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), who play Myrtle and George Wilson, are only used in a few scenes, though their roles are pivotal to the storyline. Hopefully we will see more of them in the DVD’s deleted scenes.

While Tobey Maguire was the person I was least excited about in the film, his portrayal of Nick Carraway was spot on. Maguire excels at providing the film with Carraway’s sarcastic narration, while also knowing when to fade into the background of the scene and just react. Additionally, Carey Mulligan was the perfect Daisy to DiCaprio’s Gatsby. I really enjoyed her alluring depiction of Daisy, full of dramatic glances and gesticulations. Also, don’t miss Joel Edgerton as Tom (Daisy’s husband). Though the movie doesn’t give Tom as much “screen time” as the book, Edgerton ensures the character and his motivations fit in perfectly with the abridged storyline; it didn’t feel as though we were missing critical pieces of his story.

Probably the most surprising and brilliant casting, however, was the role of Jordan (Elizabeth Debicki), who was even better on screen than in the book. Debicki encompassed the roaring ‘20s through her mannerism and overall look. Every time she entered a scene, she commanded my attention. Last (but not least), is Leonardo DiCaprio, who is easily the best Gatsby we have seen on-screen (sorry, Robert Redford). He was the heart of the movie with his emotional portrayal of Jay Gatsby. The way DiCaprio expertly shows his emotional range, from anxious to sad to enraged will be a real treat for audiences. Not to mention, Luhrmann even uses a hilarious firework explosion to finally reveal DiCaprio to the audience; he knows who people are there to see.

Another feature of the movie that deserves its own article, much less paragraph in my review, is the film’s fantastic music. Much like Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby sound track features songs from modern artists, such as Jay-Z (who also produced the sound track), Beyoncé, Florence and the Machine, and Jack White (to name a few). The most haunting song on the sound track, however, is Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful”. This is the “love song” of the film that filters through many of the scenes involving Daisy and Gatsby. If you can’t tell already, the Gatsby sound track (especially “Young and Beautiful”) is in heavy rotation on my iPod.

Bottom line: seeing Baz Luhrmann’s, The Great Gatsby, in theaters is an event in itself; almost like a stage performance. If you’re a fan of Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby, I think you will be thoroughly entertained. Not to mention, the film is a great way to start off Hollywood’s blockbuster summer. Let me know what you thought of the film in the comments below. Did it live up to its hype?