Review: "The Great Gatsby" Isn't the Fun Mess We Were Promised

Review: "The Great Gatsby" Isn't the Fun Mess We Were Promised

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Adelaide Clemens
Running time: 143 minutes
Rating: PG-13
✭✭✭✭✭✩✩✩✩✩
Score: 5/10

Review by Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)

Between the ecstatic, cartoonish trailers and the guarantee of wall-to-wall pop hits handpicked by Shawn Carter, The Great Gatsby was delivered to us with a promise: It would be fun. A mess? Probably, but at least a fun mess. What director Baz Luhrmann, who struck the right balance of excess and fidelity adapting Romeo and Juliet in a similarly caffeinated fashion, wasn’t supposed to do was bore us. Despite a rollicking first hour, his 3-D rendering of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s high-school staple is dull. It’s the worst offense this summer blockbuster could have committed.

The essential moving parts are in place: Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), of the Midwest, comes to the East to move bonds. He rents a place next to a mansion occupied by Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Gatsby’s home is across the bay from the palatial home of Tom (a college acquaintance of Nick’s, played by Joel Edgerton) and Daisy Buchanan (Nick’s cousin, played by a terrific Carey Mulligan). Gatsby pines for Daisy. Begin, drama. And what marvelous drama it is. At first.

Do you realize that you need to watch lubricated white people pop bottles and get dumb in a Jazz Age Manhattan hotel room while Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Who Gon Stop Me” blares from the movie theater speakers? I didn’t know how badly I needed that until it was happening. The first hour is full of weird moments like this, and they successfully push the poor decisions into the background, like the frame story where Nick is writing the text of Fitzgerald’s novel in a sanitarium (he’s become a depressed alcoholic—just one of many odd instances where the film tsk-tsks drinking).

There are new ideas—in comparison to the source material—at play in many of the party scenes, half-formed thoughts about white fascination with black culture and the implosion of the wealthy. The line in “Who Gon Stop Me” about the Holocaust takes on a different meaning when juxtaposed against drunk rich white people, sick with money and status and privilege. Who inherits the Earth after they’ve destroyed their lives? Jay-Z? The film only hints at this: the “Who Gon Stop Me” scene, a brief scene where Nick watches a car full of beautiful black men and women drinking Moët in a drop-top while listening to “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” It isn't bold enough to say anything. 

When the focus turns to the doomed romance between Gatsby and Daisy, The Great Gatsby loses all recklessness, all the quick-cutting, champagne-bubble exuberance of its first act. Indeed, this is a fact of the novel, too. There’s no investment from the reader/viewer in the romance, no real spark. The quality of Fitzgerald’s prose and his insight into the grand lies of American success keep the book buoyant, but on screen, the relationship is inert, already dead. Mulligan creates a complex Daisy, with such multi-faceted sighs and looks, and DiCaprio alternates between hopeful and intense in the familiar ways, but there’s nothing for the viewer to hold close. And what’s worse, no more rap music. As a summer blockbuster, it’s a failure. It won’t feel much different come awards season.

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Review by Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)

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Tags: the-great-gatsby, baz-luhrmann, leonardo-dicaprio, carey-mulligan, tobey-maguire, isla-fisher, joel-edgerton, f-scott-fitzgerald
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