Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Great Gatsby or: "Meh"

That's really all it boiled down to for me. A loud, resounding glitter cannon of "…meh."

Yes, it's Baz Lurhmann's interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic and yes, of course I expected it to be a visual spectacle on hip hop blasting, Charlston-dancing, technicolour steroids. That said, the fact that "everyone knows what to expect from a Baz Lurhmann film" (something uttered to me in various forms in the days after I saw The Great Gatsby) doesn't reduce, or excuse for that matter, the glaring faults within the Event Film of the Year. Or at least, that's my opinion. Old sport. Etc. Glitter cannon.

So, let's start with what I did like.

Firstly, The Great Gatsby is amazing to look at. Obviously. It's a sumptuous feast for the eye-holes, in 3D that - while a probably-rather-ostentatious stylistic choice - actually serves to enhance the visual goings-on. By that I mean things (mercifully) don't fly out of screen AT YO FACE in 3D wankery. Call it "classy 3D".

More than the thankfully-not-obnoxious 3D though, the costumes design in The Great Gatsby is a sight to behold. It's more than a little staggering to ponder exactly how much time and effort and dollars went into the styling of the film; everything looks damn-flippin' spectacular.

Secondly, the party sequences are just about worth price of admission. If someone else buys your popcorn, and if you BYO 3D glasses, that is. (side note: trips to the ol' cinematorium are getting EXPENSIVE AS FUCKERY. How expensive is fuckery? $25 for snacks, that's how) In any case, if you came for a visual spectacle, you could probably doze off - or leave - after the giant, sprawling party in which we're introduced to the titular Great man himself (complete with actual fireworks and fanfare heralding the moment). The party, or as I'd like to call it, The Peak of the Movie, is all tasselled dancers rocking out to dubstep, whooshing quick-cut camera movements over seas of people, fireworks, and a lot of booze. It made me want to go drink about five more cocktails and have a D-Floor rampage, so I suppose that's a successful party set piece.

As something purely to look at, and to take in as purely a visual spectacle, The Great Gatsby succeeds. Unfortunately, two and a half hours of pretty dresses and spectacular set-pieces a good film does not make.

Maybe if The Great Gatsby weren't based on a classic book so well-loved by so many (myself included), I'd be less critical. Maybe that'd be the case, but unfortunately The Great Gatsby did begin its life as a book. It's interesting to note that it's at this point that I'm compelled to write anything regarding the plot, or the character-related goings-on. It's pretty indicative of Lurhmann's Gatsby; the fact that style is favoured over substance, visual spectacle and aesthetic fappery over character and emotion. So yeah, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) rents a place next door to Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). His - Nick - cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) has married Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), and Tom's fooling around behind her back. Gatsby's bought a giant palace to be near Daisy after five years apart. Nick falls "half in love" with Daisy's friend Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki). Everyone wonders who Gatsby is. Gatsby and Daisy reconnect for a fleeting moment, but it's not to be. Sigh, etc.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's book is told from the point of view of Nick Carraway, who describes his dealings with his neighbour Jay Gatsby, his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom with a detachment and subtlety. Beautiful moments filled with emotion bubbling just between the lines ("I've never seen such beautiful shirts!") are here handled with all the subtlety of a drunken bull riding a cannon. A glitter cannon.

Here, Nick annoying narrates the film, telling the audience exactly what's going on, and exactly how/why it's happening. Those aforementioned beautiful moments occur - featuring some great performances, just FYI - but are then ruined by narration then describing to the audience what just happened.

My biggest gripe with The Great Gatsby was the incessant heavy-handed nature in which EVERYTHING goes down. The audience is basically pistol-whipped with the point/meaning of every action that happens. At one point Gatsby tells Nick about a letter he wrote Daisy, and as he describes it, Daisy's image appears in the night sky like some sort of giant, human, simpering Jazz Age Mufasa. When things like that happen it doesn't matter how much of a beautiful spectacle a party is, because a bejewelled Fonz just jumped the gold-plated shark. I actually struggled to hold back laughter at a couple of points.

Good one, Baz. 

Which is SUCH A SHAME. Because the cast assembled here is really good, and Baz Lurhmann at times just doesn't trust them to just act. I mean, Leo's good in just about everything he does, and certainly he's a charming and charismatic Gatsby (his refrain of "old sport" doesn't even sound ridiculous) but I didn't find myself giving as much of a shit about him than I would have liked. Same goes for Carey Mulligan. Tobey Maguire fares even worse; he's required to look in turns tired, bewildered, and then slightly less bewildered. Joel Edgerton's the only one who really gets to do anything, and as such, really shines in his hulking, grunting Tom Buchanan. Elizabeth Debicki too, is a standout (although at times I found it distracting watching her, as we happened to go to high school fact) in her tall, aloof badassery.

And to those who told me "Yeah, it's fine if the movie is all style over substance, it's supposed to be, because that's what the 1920s were like!", I reply with "NO". That's like saying a movie about racism/misogyny/something else is all good in the hood to be racist/misogynistic/something else in its own (the film's) depiction/view/POV/stance/all-seeing eye because that's "what it was like" during point in history it's depicting.

I probably could've articulated that better, but it's late and a bathroom mirror fell on my head yesterday (true story). What I'm trying to say is that I would've liked at least a little bit more character/substance/actual chances to give a crap about the characters during The Great Gatsby.

I feel like I'm doing a little too much griping. Honestly, I enjoyed The Great Gatsby. Even though my mind began wandering to the weekend ahead at about the two-hour mark, it was a rollicking and entertaining ride through the 1920s. And it was beautiful. Amazingly beautiful. The party sequence is worth price of admission. The performances were solid, albeit via an underused cast. Let's face it, the lead pair are good in just about everything they do, and the core cast does actually manage to elevate the film. This is definitely the event film of the year, and as an Event Film it lives up to the spectacle. However, I don't often get into films that are as heavy-handed, obvious, melodramatic and as prone to bitch-slapping audiences in the face with "the point" with a chain-mail gauntlet as this one.

Don't re-read the book before seeing The Great Gatsby like I did.

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