The Not So Great Gatsby

Published 8:27 am Friday, May 10, 2013

I first read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” in high school and have revisited its characters dozens of times since. To my mind, it is the greatest American novel ever written. I am also a huge fan of director Baz Luhrmann, the Australian showman behind “Moulin Rouge” and “Romeo + Juliet.”

With that as a setup, it was only natural that I was champing with anticipation over what Luhrmann would do with his new movie version of “Gatsby.” It seemed like a match made in heaven—perhaps even a potential Oscar nominee.

Unfortunately, the new film turns out to be a big, gaudy mess. The visual images are certainly stunning, but they overwhelm the rest of the movie. Mix that with a two and a half hour running time, a woefully dumb framing device and some fairly lackluster performances and you have the first major flop of the summer.

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“Gatsby” is set in the Jazz Age of the 1920s. Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) has come to visit his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), but soon finds himself caught up in the wake of the titular Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a nouveau riche enigma of a man who throws lavish parties but hides a mysterious past.

We quickly learn that Gatsby is in love with Daisy. The problem is that she’s already married to her philandering husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton). This is more than just a simple love triangle, as Gatsby represents the American Dream and his fight for Daisy is very much a fight against the old world Blue Bloods who looked down their noses at America in the 1920s.

Gatsby is a self-made man, but he’s also something of a fraud, desperately trying to prove himself worthy of Daisy’s love. Fitzgerald walks that fine line in his novel, but the movie doesn’t have any of the book’s nuances. Luhrmann gets so caught up in the 3D spectacle of Gatsby’s bacchanalian parties that any subtlety of theme and character motivation is completely lost. It’s as if Luhrmann excised both the love story and the critique of the American social system and replaced them with nothing more than shallow pop images.

It’s only due to DiCaprio’s star power that Gatsby, the character, isn’t completely swallowed up by “Gatsby,” the movie. He’s the only actor to register because the film is so big that it overshadows everybody else. Even the anachronistic addition of music from artists like Jay-Z and Lana Del Rey gets lost in the explosion of glittering 3D images.

The film is worth seeing for Luhrmann’s spectacle, and DiCaprio’s fans will certainly find reasons to cheer, but general audiences will be left scratching their heads. There’s nothing in this movie to suggest that Gatsby’s is the quintessential American story. This “Gatsby” certainly isn’t as great as we had expected it to be.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at