Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Not Great Gatsby

The best thing about Baz Lurhmann’s film of The Great Gatsby is that it inspires me to re-read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel for the first time in decades. I remember quite well that it was about much more than Lurhmann got or portrayed, despite his florid and opulent style of filmmaking. Much of the screenplay by Lurhmann and Craig Pearce comes straight from the novel, but without understanding and with a jumbled structure. The framework that they used as an excuse to tell the story is false and overdone as is most of Mr. Luhrmann’s work. Just tell the story.

Great Visuals, Lacking in Depth

Mostly I found Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby boring. In the same vein, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway was boring. Carraway shouldn’t steal the limelight, of course, but he need not belong nowhere to the extent Maguire’s Nick did.

The good bits:  
Myrtle and Tom standing, Nick and Catherine (c) 2013 Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow

Joel Edgerton was revolting as Tom Buchanan, therefore excellent. Tom Buchanan is a thug, born to old money or not, on the page and on the screen. Real emotion plays over his hard face, and much as I dislike Tom, Mr. Edgerton made me feel for him – just a smidge.  

Elizabeth Debicki appears sleek and smooth as Jordan Baker, with depths and humor peeking out from her eyes. She is the one character we don’t see enough of. There’s so much more going on with Jordan than we get to see, but that’s probably because Gatsby and Daisy are just not as interesting as she is. More Jordan would throw the picture out whatever balance it has.  
Jordan and Nick (c) 2013 Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow

Isla Fisher was striking as Myrtle, almost as vulgar as Tom. Her desperation came through every moment she was onscreen. As her sad husband George, Jason Clarke lived in the time and the town and the muddy dead end all too convincingly.

 Leonardo DiCaprio does a good job as Gatsby, making him untrustworthy while endearing, and perhaps slightly mad.

Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, and Nick.  (c) 2013 Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow
 I’m a Carey Mulligan fan, and she did a good job as Daisy, but Daisy is so boring it’s hard to recognize it. Daisy is pretty, shallow, helpless, and utterly unlikeable. Somehow that didn’t make the novel difficult to bear, but it does this movie.

 As Myrtle’s sister Catherine, Adelaide Clemens looked like an overly made up Carey Mulligan, so I did wonder what Luhrmann was up to. But he didn’t follow through, so I suppose he wasn’t up to much of anything interesting at all.

This film is full of throwaway characters, famous names, and hints that the story may have a point. Mr. Luhrmann doesn’t get it, so he didn’t give it. I’m tired of filmmakers taking books and leading people to believe the shallow films coming out of Hollywood and Australia and wherever else are actually related to the original books on which they’re allegedly, very loosely based (but from which they clearly have merely stolen the titles).

Reason to be glad to have seen it:  an actress I hadn't seen before but will remember:  Elizabeth Debicki.

~ Molly Matera, wishing she’d chosen to see Iron Man 3 instead.

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