is not the Long Island of Ed Burns movies.
As everyone should remember from high school English class, East Egg is
where the old money elite are ensconced and West Egg is where the nouveau riche
frolic the nights away. They are so
close yet so far away. This is still the
case in Baz Luhrmann’s brassy 3D adaptation of Fitzgerald’s moody classic, The Great Gatsby (trailer here), which opens across
the country today.
man Jay Gatsby throws extravagant parties in his West Egg mansion in hopes his
old flame will someday wander in. Daisy
Buchanan now lives with her husband Tom, an old moneyed philandering bully. Gatsby hopes her nebbish cousin Nick
Carraway, living in the hobbit cottage next to his estate will help him woo her
back. A lot of drinking ensues as the
eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s faded billboard look down on man’s folly. At least it’s a heck of a party.
be frank, Luhrmann is a West Egg filmmaker if ever there was one. Once again he empties his kit bag of
ostentatious razzle dazzle, anachronistic music, and a singular fusion of pop
culture irony with syrupy melodrama. To
his estimable credit, Luhrmann never tries to crank up the novel’s modern
“relevancy.” Gatsby and his gangster
associate Meyer Wolfshiem are not reconceived as sub-prime lenders, nor do any
characters’ untimely deaths coincide with the 1929 stock market crash.
Luhrmann is the sort of director who might step on the set and proclaim: “you
know what this scene needs? More dancing flappers.” To an extent, we should all be able to buy
into that. You can dismiss Luhrmann’s
style as shtick, because it is, but it is his shtick. However, on some level, he still has to hold
together a narrative and guide his cast.
The latter is rather problematic, starting at the top.
from his gloriously over the top entrance, set to the crescendo of Rhapsody in Blue, Leonardo DiCaprio is
profoundly wrong as Gatsby. This is the
great Byronic brooder of proper upstanding American literature, but you would
hardly know it here. Chipper and
shallow, DiCaprio’s Gatsby is like the Gatsby Gatsby always wanted to be. This is rather disastrous given Luhrmann’s
surprising faithfulness to Fitzgerald’s storyline.
even more head-scratching is the choice of Carey Mulligan to play Daisy Buchanan,
especially considering her eerie resemblance to DiCaprio. Is Luhrmann offering a subversive commentary
on the characters’ narcissism when they stare into their beloved’s eyes and see
themselves reflected back? Or is it just
a case of careless casting? Regardless,
it is quite creepy to watch them rekindling their romance. Far from a femme fatale, her Buchanan is just
the other hand, poor Tobey Maguire has been taking it in the shins from
critics, but his “gee whiz” persona is perfectly suited to Nick Carraway. Likewise, many were thrown for a loop by the announcement
the great Hindi actor Amitabh Bachchan would play Wolfshiem, but that voice
could sell anything. Next time, let’s make
would have been better suited for the title role? Seriously, how about Robert Downey, Jr.? Take into account the similarities between
Tony Stark and Jay Gatsby. Both are
conspicuous consumers and relentless re-inventers. They
have rather ambiguous wartime experiences and are smitten with ghostly pale
blondes. Of course, we can instantly
believe Downey has been to some very dark places. DiCaprio, not so much.
For his next project, Luhrmann ought to do a
legitimate Busby Berkeley musical. His
big sprawling musical bacchanals really are a lot of fun to behold. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is
sabotaged by the inappropriate leads and a complete abandonment of the novel’s
dreamy ambiguity. Big and loud, Luhrmann’s
The Great Gatsby is what you would
expect, never transcending the Moulin
Rouge! template. For those who want to see Fitzgerald this way, it is now
playing pretty much everywhere with a movie screen, including the Regal Union
Square in New York.
Labels: 3D films, Amitabh Bachchan, Baz Luhrmann, F. Scott Fitzzgerald