Review: The "Great" Gatsby

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Baz Lurmann’s Great Gatsby is garish and bright, chocked with the bling you hoped he’d throw around like it’s cheap—and it is. His high-budget/low-brow spectacles are perfect for reproducing the moral vacuum of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, and for all its anachronisms, Lurmann’s reproduction couldn’t be more loyal to the text: it’s just as brilliant, bewildering and occasionally boring (I should mention I read the book in 9th grade).

Leonardo DiCaprio, who Scorsese shrewdly cast as manic millionaire Howard Hughes (The Aviator), plays Gatsby in a way that recalls Homer Simpson’s description of God: “Like Barbara Streisand before James Brolin: all powerful but insecure.” Unlike the cypher Robert Redford made him, DiCaprio sees this hopeful man as one who projects his dreams into the future—and onto Daisy Buchanan, an idol destined to prove herself false.

Mousey Carrey Mulligan is an odd choice for Daisy, a female enigma that glows like a mirage—we meet her lounging beneath gauzy window dressings in a state of blithe and bride-like bliss—her husband (Joel Edgerton) has grown bored with her. Daisy’s supposed to inspire Gatsby to become the American King of New Money, and his love for her might turn into self-esteem if she’d leave her lecherous husband for him. Tobey Maguire is a basically believable Nick Carraway, twisting the burdened hero he made of Spiderman into a burdened secret-keeper with a shaken moral compass. Amitabh Bachchan is menacing as “Jewish” gangster Meyer Wolfshiem, a mysterious moneyman so exotic he makes you believe his underworld is indeed another plane. Luhrman’s Jazzy Manhattan is thrilling but not as prominent as to be considered a character; Daisy’s big scene in the Plaza begins with a glorious shot of the hotel, white and lonely like an incisor. That scene goes kind of downhill from there.

The music, which is 80% Jay-Z, 10% era jazz and 10% mystery meat, is often incredible, but as David Edelstein rightly said “the movie would be 100 percent ersatz even with period jazz.” The nifty soundtrack only helps the film’s updating, not because it “decodes” anything (as Luhrmann said of the music in Moulin Rouge) but because this remake is interested in a modern condition that isn’t exclusive to the Gatsby’s era. I realize “modern” is a concept that’s half catchword and half hot air, but isn’t it also our common disease and an excuse for excess and ennui?

This Gatsby panders for attention with the conviction of Reality TV, but unlike Real Housewives it needs you to like it. I’d be calling it “Moulin Rouge 2” if Great Gatsby had half that film’s heart, but schmaltz and spectacle aren’t the same thing no matter how much bling, Luhrmann, the god of razzle-dazzle layers on. Wisely, Gatsby is vapid and vulgar, as hollow as a hundred explosions and every bit as glittery. “What’s it all for?” Carraway asks? These hollow men can’t love, but they notice the thing that glitters—for as long as that thing shakes a shiny ass.

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