Anyone who has seen any of Baz Luhrmann’s previous films knows he tells his stories with an extravagant, theatrical style. “The Great Gatsby” is no exception. This fact alone is why Luhrmann is the perfect directorial fit for this elaborate, idealistic love story full of decadence and excess.
Though Luhrmann takes a few creative liberties, he sticks close to the plot of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. The story takes place in the 1920s, but with fashionable modernization. The film’s score is produced by Jay-Z, which leads to moments such as Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby driving into New York City while passing a car loudly playing bass-thumping rap music.
The movie begins with the most apparent creative stray with Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) in a sanitarium.
Carraway’s psychiatrist encourages him to write down the events that led to him checking himself into the retreat. His narration of the story of his summer with Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) transpires as he pounds away on the keys of a typewriter.
This is not the first time Luhrmann has used such a storytelling methodology.
In “Moulin Rouge,” Ewan McGregor told his story from behind a typewriter as well. This time, the words of Fitzgerald literally jump to life as they appear on screen throughout the movie.
The main events of Carraway’s story take place in the summer of 1922 where he has taken a job in New York as a bond salesman. He rents a small house next door to the extravagant mansion of Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire who holds extravagant parties.
Carraway’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), lives across the bay from Carraway with her philandering husband Tom (Joel Edgerton). During a visit to the Buchanan’s equally elaborate mansion of Gatsby, the couple introduces Carraway to Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki). The film strays from the book again with the relationship between Carraway and Baker.
In the book they have a fling, where in the film, it is just a mild flirtation as Carraway seems more fascinated with Gatsby.
Tom takes Carraway to a city rundown by rampant industrialism where Carraway learns of the affair Tom is having with Myrtle (Isla Fisher), his mechanic’s wife.
Eventually Carraway receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s ostentatious parties. Carraway bumps into Baker at the party where they meet the elusive Gatsby himself. Through Baker, Carraway later learns that Gatsby knew Daisy from a romantic encounter five years earlier and is still intensely in love with her.
Through careful planning, Gatsby enlists the help of Carraway to arrange a meeting with Daisy to rekindle their romance. Shortly after Gatsby and Daisy begin their affair, events take a tumultuously tragic turn.
Though Luhrmann’s interpretation of the beloved novel is astounding, the acting in the film leaves much to be desired. DiCaprio and Mulligan give stellar performances as Gatsby and Daisy, but Maguire was the wrong fit as Carraway. Though it is Luhrmann’s style to tell his stories with over theatrical emphasis, the over-acting of the supporting cast seemed to be too much.
Grade – B