Romy Shiller

The Great Gatsby

In book, Film, review on May 16, 2013 at 7:34 am






 ABOUT: An adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel of the same name, the film is co-written and directed by Baz Luhrmann, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, with Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke. It follows the life and times of millionaire Jay Gatsby and his neighbor Nick, who recounts his encounter with Gatsby at the height of the Roaring Twenties.


I believe that this film uses the iconic Gatsby story as a backdrop *gasp* and that style is the main focus here. Texture, colour, lavish sets, costumes…pretty stunning excess. I also believe that this film should not be compared to other Gatsby films rather it can be looked at as a Luhrmann work. As a Luhrmann work this is one of his worst.


Critic A.O. Scott says, “The result is less a conventional movie adaptation than a splashy, trashy opera, a wayward, lavishly theatrical celebration of the emotional and material extravagance that Fitzgerald surveyed with fascinated ambivalence.“ I did not expect restrained or conventional anything. I expected a great reflection of over-the-top-ness. Gatsby and his world are metaphors for excess, melodrama and a c’est la vie sensibility.


The ‘Jazz Age’ had a very unconventional and rebellious attitude. African Americans were credited with starting the Jazz Age. Flappers were significant because they represented the new, free, voting woman. Many ‘youth’ of the day were rebelling against what they perceived to be an antiquated system and belief structure.


great gatsby movie set design - baz luhrmann directing


Baz Luhrmann does ‘excess’ very, very well in most of his films. In fact, I cannot think of a better-suited director to make this film. The story itself has been criticized, so either you go with it or you don’t. Is the story about true love? Does Daisy really love Gatsby? I dismiss these questions. Daisy is caught between a philandering, bullying husband and a needy, stalkerish boyfriend. She has to negotiate the repressive ideology of the era and her family’s expectations. To me, she is the sanest one.


The film is a “great, tragic love story with action, passion, drama”, said director Baz Luhrmann to the Hollywood Reporter.


This film is largely style over story. Even so, there is loose editing and weak acting. There were some scenes that had heightened colour, texture andmise-en-scène. These were great.


For those in need of a refresher, here’s a quick recap of the plot: drawn to New York by his new job in the bond business, Nick Carraway moves to Long Island, where his neighbor Gatsby holds lavish parties in the hopes of winning back Nick’s cousin, Daisy, a beautiful debutante with whom he had a romance before the Great War. Nick agrees to have both Gatsby and Daisy to tea. Daisy and Gatsby soon rekindle their affair, but upon being pressured to renounce her husband, she retreats from both men. Tragedy intervenes.




Leonardo DiCaprio who plays Jay Gatsby says: “I read it in junior high school and it made sense to me. It was representative of the roaring twenties. Baz handed me a first edition copy, and as an adult, it takes on a different meaning. It’s really an existential novel.”


He was reluctant to take on the lead role: “I was reluctant…what’s so powerful about this novel is everyone has their own interpretation of these characters.”


 Somebody I saw the film with noted that today there were no Cary Grants or Gary Coopers and that a gravitas was lacking in DiCaprio. He evolved in Django and devolved here. He probably has the best range today but in this film, not so much.




Isla Fisher plays a working-class woman called Myrtle Wilson. She praised her co-star Leonardo DiCaprio for being “one of the greatest actors of our generation.”


“[Leo] has gone further than you could ever have imagined with this character, and really made [Gatsby] so multi-dimensional, and so flawed and so vulnerable, and yet so macho and sexy – everything that you want in Gatsby.”


She’s wrong but was by far the best actor here.


Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann's forthcoming adaptation of The Great Gatsby.


Carey Mulligan plays Daisy Bucannon and says: “We [Baz Luhrmann] talked about how she was a product of her time.”


“The thing is that Daisy is trapped in a cage of the previous century but there are all these wild-partying flapper girls around,” Luhrmann said of the paradoxes.


“What Carey can’t say,” Luhrmann said, “is that we went on an intense research journey together and Carey went down to Princeton and we had experts on speakeasies come in.


“When we started talking about Daisy,” said Mulligan, “Baz gave me about seven books on Zelda Fitzgerald. And I was lucky enough to read all the love letters from Ginevra King to F. Scott Fitzgerald.”


Luhrmann said, “And when Carey (as Daisy) says, ‘I wish I had done everything on Earth with you,’ it’s a line from Zelda Fitzgerald’s love letter to (Fitzgerald).


She was okay but not great.






According to U-T San Diego online, the movie’s soundtrack is meant to invoke the feeling of the 1920s.


The soundtrack features contemporary music by Jay-Z, Sia, Jack White and The XX…


Tobey Maguire who plays miscast narrator Nick Carraway says: “Baz wanted to do what Fitzgerald set out to do, which is to write something new and beautiful and intricately patterned. In that pursuit, Baz wanted the audience to experience and feel and see what they did when the novel was first published. As we look back, the music of that era, while beautiful, can seem antique and unsophisticated. We’ve evolved way past that musically at this point, and Baz is trying to give the audience the feeling of excitement those folks were having in the 1920s.”


Yes, the feeling was glam, over-the-top partying, highs and lows of romantic feelings, drunken messiness but still it could have been tighter, more even in tone…


This film does mirror the era sensibility but it is a flawed film.



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