Movies: "The Great Gatsby" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "The Great Gatsby"
Movies: "The Great Gatsby"

Poor F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Kicked out of Princeton.  Saw his early literary stardom go down the drain.  Wife Zelda committed to various mental institutions.  Dead of drink at the age of 44.  And now director Baz Luhrmann has even taken away his authorship of one of the greatest American novels.

It’s true.  As the new movie take on “The Great Gatsby” ends, we see the title page of the novel of the same title, attributed to the fictional character of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire).  No wonder Dorothy Parker commented at Fitzgerald’s funeral, “The poor son of a bitch.”

 

I have no idea why Luhrmann, who co-wrote the screenplay with Craig Pearce, decided to strip Fitzgerald of his finest work.  Nor do I fully comprehend why Luhrmann shot the movie in 3D -- but that’s how I watched it, wanting to experience the Full Luhrmann.  

 

(In interviews, Luhrmann has defended his shooting style, and his inclusion of music by the likes of Jay Z, a co-producer of the movie, Beyonce and Fergie, alongside that of George Gershwin, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, by saying that Fitzgerald was a cutting edge writer during the Jazz Age and would have appreciated the newer stuff today.) 

 

Anyone who’s seen earlier Luhrmann movies, particularly “Moulin Rouge!,” should know what to expect here:  everything over the top and in 3D.  When the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) throws a party, there’s a cast of thousands doing the Charleston, hundreds of waiters wielding oceans of martinis and a bigger fireworks show than we saw during the Bicentennial.   The stately mansions of Long Island (the movie was actually shot in Luhrman’s native Australia) look grander than Versailles.  

 

Set against all this feverish razzle-dazzle, what chance do the smaller human characters -- Carraway, his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), her loutish husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), even Gatsby himself, have?  When the plot zeroes in on them, the movie inevitably slumps.  Younger moviegoers, perhaps drawn in by the star power of the musicians involved, will start to get restless.

 

DiCaprio has matured since his starring role in “Titanic,” but his Gatsby isn’t all that different from the charged-up character of Jack Dawson, except for his annoyingly repetitive use of the phrase “old sport.”  Mulligan does her best with the bruised Daisy and Maguire may wish he had used his Spidey powers to beef up his portrayal of Carraway.  I was more taken with some of the supporting players, including Elizabeth Debicki as Daisy’s friend Jordan, Isla Fisher as Tom Buchanan’s lowlife mistress and the elegant Amitabh Bachcan, a veteran Indian actor miscast as the Jewish gangster Meyer Wolfsheim.  When Tom Buchanan uses an anti-Semitic slur about him, you may wonder to whom he’s referring.

 

So what to make of this bold take on Fitzgerald’s masterpiece?  I didn’t expect to gain any literary awareness from it.  I didn’t expect a headache either.

 

“The Great Gatsby” is rated PG-13 for its adult themes and heavy Jazz Age drinking.  I give it a C.