2 Jul 2013

The Great Gatsby

Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

My girl loves Baz Luhermann. One of her favourite films is his 1996 version of Romeo and Juliet. She loves the spectacle, the music and the style of Luhermann. She also loves literature, and it was the literary themes that attracted her to Midnight in Paris.  When she heard that Baz Luhermann was taking on F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby  she was dying to see it.  And we did.
It is 1922 and Nick Carraway has just graduated from university, but he has put aside his dreams of becoming an author to cash in on the wealth pouring into Wall Street. New York is the Babylon of America, full of money, jazz and parties.  Nick gets a job selling bonds on Wall Street and rents a little cottage on Long island between the estates of the rich and famous. It is an old cottage next to a mansion owned by a mysterious man, who Nick senses is watching him. 

Nicks wealthy socialite cousin Daisy lives across the bay with her husband Tom Buchanan. The three went to university together and are firm friends. However while resuming his friendship with Daisy, Nick discovers that his favourite cousin is unhappy. Tom is having an affair and is being less than discrete about it. Nick is even dragged into the affair when Tom brings Nick with him to meet his mistress Myrtle.  
While Nick is in New York everyone is talking about his mysterious neighbour, Gatsby. But no one knows who he is, and there is much speculation on the topic. But the fact is that he is rich and throws the greatest parties in New York.
And then Nick gets an invitation to attend one of these parties, and is apparently the only guest to ever receive one.  Nick is one of the few people to actually meet the wealthy and mysterious Jay Gatsby.  Gatsby falls over himself to befriend Nick, taking on his place, inviting him to high powered lunches, parties etc. Eventually Nick discovers that Gatsby has met his cousin before she was married. Daisy and Gatsby courted, but then Gatsby had to leave for the war.  While he was away Daisy married the wealthy, charismatic Tom.  Gatsby is hoping that Nick can facilitate a meeting between the two of them, in the hope that maybe Daisy and Gatsby can start where they left off five years ago.
Ensue decadent hijinks of the 20’s
The story is actually quite basic, but Baz Luhermann fills it with excess and spectacle that he excels at. The Great Gatsby reminds me of the Cecil b demille films, with dazzling sets filled with dancers and excess. Which is perfect for the story.
Luhermann uses close ups that you would confuse with 20s film or a soap opera, and somehow manages to avoid too much cheese. You see the cheese, you smell the cheese, but there is enough rich wine not to make you cringe. 
His use of music  fills the film to the point you might be confused into thinking this is a musical. Jay Z brought a great collaboration of artists together for the sound track, and manages to create a neo 20’s sound for a period film without breaking through the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. You hear Fergie, and Florence but it gels with the film elegantly. Very few period films that use modern music do so successfully, but Gatsby does.
The premise of Gatsby is dreams, dreams of wealth, success, love. Everyone has a dream.  Gatsby dreams of a life with Daisy, Nick dreams of success, Tom dreams of his mistress Myrtle, and Daisy just dreams. 
The cast is excellent; Di Caprio is great as the mysterious Gatsby, sometimes charming and debonair, but also as vulnerable, devoted and delusional as a teenage boy when it comes to Daisy. Maguire is perfect as Nick, an everyman character that is carried along by events, more an observer than driver. Maguire even now can conjure a wide eyed innocence that is credible. Luhermann of course casts his films with excellent character actors Carey Mulligan is good as the vapid beautiful Daisy and Joel Edgerton menaces as the aristocratic Buchannan, and shows hs range from a soldier in  Zero Dark Thirty.
However the success of the The Great Gatsby is not the story but the style, and Baz Luhermann excels in a stylish movie.  And that may not be enough for a wider audience.  Gatsby's blind obsessive devotion to an insipid girl, and the other unattractive qualities of the characters do not make for a sympathetic story.  And while that is Fitzgerald’s point, story style over substance may not be entertaining for many. 

I enjoyed the film and  give it a 6.5 monkeys, but if you love Luhermann you will love this film.
I've been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

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