How many films does it take for a director to transition to self-parody? In the case of Baz Luhrmann, apparently only five. After the pseudo-trilogy of Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge! he seemed to be on a roll. Then with the release of Australia, he sure caused a major hiccup on his resume. At first glance, you could assume that it was from shifting writing partners — from Craig Pearce — to a film overrun with four credited writers, Luhrmann included.
Luhrmann went back to Pearce for his larger than life (as he’s prone to do) adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. By cobbling together a fantastic cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, and Isla Fisher — you’d think his directing trademarks would be suited for a film filled to the brim with over-the-top parties and star-crossed lovers. But what worked so well for his earlier work literally drowns you in its excess when it isn’t boring you to death. It’s not that The Great Gatsby is a bad movie by any means. Luhrmann’s films are always top notch technically, but throw in the fact that it’s also brought to life in 3D, prepare yourself for a major headache.
Having never read the Fitzgerald story, I thought I would be more unfamiliar with The Great Gatsby, but it turns out, having seen Moulin Rouge! was all the prep work necessary. In the Roaring ‘20s, Nick Carraway (Maguire) spends his days at the Perkins Sanitorium. One day his doctor tells him he should write down the story that put him there (along with but not limited to his morbid alcoholism). That story turns out to be his fascination with his mysteriously wealthy neighbor, Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio). Gatsby is a reclusive sort, but boy does he know how to throw a party.
One day Nick is personally invited to attend one such lavish party and eventually we are informed that it’s all a rouse for Gatsby to get closer to Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan). Nick is soon consumed by the riotous amusement at Gatsby’s disposal, but even he never knows what to believe when it comes to his elusive neighbor. Meanwhile, Daisy may be married to “Old Money” Tom Buchanan (Edgerton), but for the last five years, Gatsby and Daisy have been pining away for each other. The subplots of Tom’s mistress Myrtle (Fisher) seems to be thrown to the wayside, but anyone who’s read the book knows what’s in store as Tom begins to dig into Gatsby’s mysterious rise to the top.
For at least the first hour, Baz seems to be keeping the film in his typical overdrive, filling the party scenes with all the quick-cutting chaos you’d expect from his previous endeavors. But working from a source material of only around 200 pages, a film stretched out to 143minutes is overkill. It takes a good while for Gatsby to even get introduced and at first, he’s a welcome distraction from Nick’s lonely life. Nick doesn’t even notice the mansion he’s living next to until he enters the grounds.
If you’re going to see the film in 3D make sure to do yourself a huge favor by skipping any theater with Dolby 3D installed. It has been, and always will be, the bane of 3D. It’s being marketed as being shown in IMAX 3D, but who really thinks they’ll be able to find it playing when last week’s Iron Man 3 will still be deservedly hoarding screens. Originally planned for a Christmas release last year, The Great Gatsby was pushed back to this weekend. Probably because Warner Bros. realized they had zero chances at the Oscars and apparently don’t mind their film only having one weekend to try to make some money before it’s chewed up and spit out by Star Trek Into Darkness.
If you’re looking for the most hyperactive screen version of The Great Gatsby, or the worst Moulin Rouge! sequel ever, look no further. Fans of the novel are bound to be let down as the spirit of the novel is deflated by Baz’s grandiose theatrics. But then again, the film doesn’t even live up to what fans of Baz’s style may be hoping for either. The Great Gatsby is a no win for anyone as you’re likely to wind up feeling much like Nick continually repeats, “within and without.”
Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures