The Great Gatsby

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Style suffocates substance in this flashy, overly extravagant adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic.

Adhering (for the most part) to the plot of the famous novel, “The Great Gatsby” introduces us to Jay Gatsby, a millionaire of mysterious means who throws extremely lavish parties for unknown reasons. Everyone who is anyone attends, yet no one seems to know Gatsby themselves. Living next door is Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who watches the proceedings from afar. After receiving an invitation to attend one night, Carraway slowly gets pulled into Gatsby’s hedonistic world.

It’s not long before Carraway realizes that Gatsby’s motivations are romantic in nature. The house Gatsby lives in is located directly across the bay from Carraway’s cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). It’s revealed that Gatsby and Daisy were romantically involved before Gatsby was shipped off to war. The problem now is that Daisy is married (to Tom Buchanan, played by Joel Edgerton). Even though her husband is unfaithful himself, Daisy can’t bring herself to leave him. Worse yet, as things come to a head, the question of who Gatsby really is and how he really got his money comes into play.

Tragedy follows.

It’s patently obvious that director Baz Luhrmann was drawn to this project due to the period piece style potential and the tragic romantic elements. Roaring 20′s flappers dance about under confetti showers, souped up coupes roar around, and Gatsby’s estate is displayed in all its extravagant glory. Anachronistic modern music seeps in as Luhrmann revels in the partying to the point where it feels like a music video at times. When the romance begins to enter the picture, there are walls of flowers, fluttering, falling shirts, and Carey Mulligan’s doe eyes in all their doe eyed glory.

Unfortunately, the style outweighs the substance here, considerably. Unlike the novel, where you’re left to infer themes, motivations, etc, Luhrmann’s film spells things out for the viewer (occasionally literally) so that nothing will be missed. Maguire’s narration occasionally uses what I assume were passages that were directly lifted from the novel, but as they’re cherry picked out of many, and isolated and illustrated, it’s a little bit harder to escape their meaning than it would be to a reader. As such, I had the feeling I was being talked down to, a bit. Hit over the head if you will. Kind of like a movie cliff notes version of the novel, where an interpretation is handed to you on a platter. That’s not a positive attribute for a film to have, especially one based on a piece of classic literature.

It’s not to say the movie is without merit. The stylistic vision of the 1920s is occasionally entrancing, DiCaprio makes a great Gatsby (LOL), and it does benefit from being based on such great material. But at a runtime of nearly two and a half hours (2:23), it overstays its welcome a bit. Having everything spelled out and handed to you (in terms of meaning), while so much attention is paid to the visual style, ultimately adds up to a film that feels a little… empty.

B-

Daniel Fogarty

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52 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby

  1. “Style suffocates substance in this flashy, overly extravagant…”

    Welcome to Baz Luhrmann. His Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge! are painful in what you describe.

  2. Good review Fogs. It’s all about the style and look here, and even though I didn’t hate that aspect of the movie; I still wish there was more to appreciate here. Except for Leo, of course.

    • Yup. Very very welll put Dan. The flash and pizazz outweighs everything else. Its hard for the drama to get a hand hold amidst all the flashing lights and music.

      I didnt hate it either, but as you said, it definitely left me wishing there was more to it :(

  3. Have no intention of seeing it. The ad says “The director of…” and then mentions 2 films of his I hated. Not gonna waste my time.

  4. It’s a shame the overall consensus of this has been had, and we haven’t yet had a screen adaptation that’s had the opulent, style, substance, and characters down to a tee. Good review.

    • Yeah, this is nowhere near that. The MOVIE has a lot of opulance, and style, LOL, but there’s not enough quality drama – the film fails the characters in this case. :( Its too bad, too, I think it could have worked. I wish it did to a much higher degree.

  5. Seeing this tonight. It’s amazing how split the reviews are. On one hand it’s getting shit on and the other people seem to be really enjoying it. Really looking forward to it though, Leo is the man.

    • I’m kind of in between. I cant totally trash it, its not without its virtues. There were times when the style was clicking with me and I enjoyed it, but at the end of the day I couldnt help but be underwhelmed. So… put me in the middle ground I guess Ryan.

      Anyways hope you enjoy though.

  6. Nice review Fogs. Baz Luhrmann seems to have quite a decent reputation and I’m not sure why, everything he does is flashy but not much more than that. I still fancy giving this a watch but I don’t have high expectations.

    • A lot of people like the “Flashy” though. Its not really my cup of tea, but a lot of people really enjoyed a visually stylized film like this.

      Its not horrible or anything, you could do worse than checking it out, but its not great either, unfortunately :(

      Thanks for swinging by, Chris!!

  7. Like other commenters (and you) have said, it’s sadly not a surprise that this is style over substance. Such a shame. In a way, the story is all about emptiness and so suffocating it with over the top visuals is exactly what shouldn’t happen.

    • Its true. The visuals worked well for one aspect of the film (the parties), but the drama and the story wasn’t up to the task for the rest of it. Sad to say it really didnt carry the emotional weight that it needed to… :(

  8. I’m a big fan of the novel, and I was worried the movie would end up being too much about glitz and not about substance. I was on the fence about whether or not to see this one in theaters. Sounds like it’s better to wait for the DVD. :( Thanks for the review!

    • Yeah, sorry to break the news to you. Hopefully you’ll wind up one of the people who are enjoying it though, who knows.

      For me it was a lot of glitz and glamour, but it was hard to take as seriously as I’d have liked… which was necessary for the drama to work :(

  9. Hi, Fogs:

    If you are going to delve into the conspicuous consumption and glamor of ‘The Roaring ’20s’. At least have the decency to use music appropriate to that era.

    From the clips I’ve seen, ‘Gatsby’ looks like a very stylized, near sumptuous period piece. With no depth and little character exposition. Thanks for the reaffirming heads up!

    • It’s true, Jack. It’s true.

      I didnt mind the music thing that much, it was neat the way they mashed it up… that was one element of the style that I enjoyed.

      You know though, between that and the fact that they used a lot of CGI :roll: I dont know how much of a period piece we can actually call it. You’re never allowed to forget that it’s a 21st century movie :o

  10. I suspect one of the hardest things about adapting a novel (particularly a classic one, or even just a well-known one) to the big screen is figuring how to convey the subtle nuances, internal monologues, and all the other things that aren’t inherently visible and audible. Too little, and it becomes too opaque; too much, and it’s too transparent. Bit of a highwire act, and it sounds like this film fell off.

  11. Moulin Rouge was very refreshing and fun. As was Romeo and Juliet. Baz Luhrmann is there to provoke and to visually play with the material. It’s totally about being irreverent and making you see something familiar in a new way. So, I’m no so sure that his interpretation of The Great Gatsby would be such a let down. I’m looking forward to it, might try to catch it this weekend.

    • It was decent, but I cant recommend it highly to people. If it was something you were really looking forward to, you might still do well with it, especially seeing as the trailers pretty much showcase all the flash and pizazz of it all.

    • It wasn’t terrible, James, but I cant recommend it too much. If its something you had your hopes set on, you might still enjoy it, seeing as – at the very least- it pretty much came as advertised. Wasnt as if the trailers pulled a switch on audiences or anything.

  12. I thought it had both style and substance. Sometimes the substance got rubbed in our face by a narration that works but takes away our ability to infer things for ourselves. And while Gene Hackman does not make an appearance, it is a great performance by DiCaprio that makes this movie work. The first time he shows up, the movie settles down and becomes what it needs to be.

    • Mmmmnmnnmnn… I still think it falls short. DiCaprio was excellent, I’ll grant you that. He was perfect for the part, and there’s a number of times when he just shines. But other then that, and some occasional moments when the style overload clicks, I felt like it was missing the mark.

      Plus, of course, no Gene Hackman. LOL ;)

  13. I thought Leo was good, but Joel Edgerton impressed me more. I thought he was perfect as Tom, and also added to this is that I had no clue who he was before I saw this, whereas I knew Leo was going to be good. Tobey McGuire on the other hand, is another story.
    Going in, I thought the modern music was going to bother me, but the voice over narration ended up bothering me more. If I wanted to have the book read to me, I would stay home and read it. In fact I will, ha ha!
    Nice review Fogs, you summed it up pretty well.

    • LOL about wanting to have the book read to you… That’s totally what they did in some parts, wasn’t it? And since you’re SEEING it happen, too, it just felt like total overkill :(

      I wasn’t all that impressed by Edgerton, he was ok, I guess.

      Sounds as if we’re seeing eye to eye on this one Hunter.

  14. Allegory, symbolism, simile, metaphor, toss that right out the window and lets replace that with an out of place score and crazy camera angles and 3D. Sad part is I found the actual acting in the film is fairly impressive.

    • Yeah, I guess DiCaprio and Mulligan were both pretty good. Their performances were totally drowned out, though, as you allude to. The overwhelming impression is that of the glitz and glamour they shove down your throat. LOL 8O

      Still decent though, I guess. Though, again, you’re right. No literary value left whatsoever…

  15. Yep, I think B- is right Fogs, I gave it 3.5/5 myself. The style didn’t suffocate me exactly, but it’s just sooo much visual feast that it left my soul hungry. I guess similar to how Gatsby must’ve felt about all that wealth, ahah.

  16. Love me some Luhrmann…. Moulin Rouge is in my personal Top 3 Films Ever. I’m off to see Star Trek tonight, mainly because nobody I know wants to see Gatsby (and Gatsby’s a BluRay look for me anyway) but I really hope this film does better than it seems to be in the blogosphere. Nice review, Fogs – did I detect a hint of *wanting* this film to be better than it was somewhere in there?

    • Yeah, I was looking forward to it a bit. I liked the trailers, and I thought that the style that I was picking up on would fit well with the Gatsby material. If you’re a Luhrmann fan, you’ll probably enjoy it – even though I had issues with it, I still thought it was ok. There’s just TOO much style for me and the actual story doesn’t get a chance to breathe. :(

      Hope it doesn’t disappoint you though.

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