On Baz Lurhmann’s “The Great Gatsby”
I might be a BookNerd, but I’ll confess right here and now that while I recognize “The Great Gatsby” as a deserved and beloved American classic, a portrait of the jazz age and a stellar work by it’s legendary author, I don’t love the book. I know Jay and Nick and Daisy and Jordan and what happens to them, but I’ve read it and I don’t honestly feel any desire to re-read it. (In truth, I find the real-life story of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, to be far more interesting.)
That said, I really like Baz Luhrmann as a filmmaker. His “Romeo and Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge” are both stunning examples of what can be done in the cinematic format. I’m even forgiving him that terrible “Australia” movie that was like fourteen movies in one and dragged on and on and on. No one’s perfect all the time. (Though I will say that the only movie I’ve ever loved Nicole Kidman in was “Australia” – She was wonderful.)
So, on Mother’s Day, I saw Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby.”
And I really liked it.
If you’re expecting a line-by-line film adaptation of the book, you’ll probably wind up hating the movie. A bunch of things have changed – there’s a framing device added to explain how Nick tells the story, and the role of Jordan is significantly altered. Whatever. It’s a movie, and a movie of a book that some would even consider un-filmable, as much doesn’t happen and many character’s motivations are completely insular and hidden from the reader.
Movie-wise, “The Great Gatsby” is the glittery and opulent story of champagne and pretty, rich, unhappy people. It’s decorated with a great soundtrack that blends music from the actual era of the time with modern sounds courtesy of the likes of Jay-Z, Beyonce, Lana Del Ray, Florence + The Machine. I’m going to buy the soundtrack ASAP. Baz Luhrmann keeps things dancing along like the party at Gatsby’s estate. There are some nice touches for the fans of the book and folks with knowledge of Fitzgerald’s life, too. And the casting is pretty darn perfect. It takes an epic movie star to play Jay Gatsby, and Leonardo DiCaprio shows up and kills it. He’s the best thing about the movie. Joel Edgerton is also flawless as unlikable Tom Buchanan. Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire are both quite servicable, if slightly bland, as Daisy and Nick. The role of Jordan Baker is played by a stunning newcomer named Elizabeth Debicki, who reminded me of Emily Blunt, and who does great things with her scenes.
Take the book and movie separately, and you’ll be fine. Both are the visions of their creator – Fitzgerald and Luhrmann – and both are worth your time.
PS – I’m probably going to have to watch the Robert Redford film version now, aren’t I?