If you want, you can eat an entire chocolate cake, there is nothing stopping you besides a lack of willpower. Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby has the drive, and it’s the equivalent to eating the whole chocolate cake, a box off heavily frosted cupcakes and finishing with a chaser of hot chocolate fudge with edible gold shards on top. It’s cinematic gluttony and Lurhmann does it incredibly well, but he somehow lets this film slip into the cinematic equivalent of a light diabetic coma. Adapted from the novel of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald and set in the 1920s, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) buys a small house in Long Island, New York State. Nick becomes intrigued by the parties happening in the mansion next door, hosted by a mysterious man named Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).
The gigantic parties thrown by Gatsby are the centerpiece of the film, and you can’t help but have a wild time. Technicolor fireworks, champagne coated lunacy and sweaty exuberant dancing give the story a vibrant energy. It puts the roar in the roaring twenties and Luhrmann delivers the rambunctious visuals brilliantly.
The parties aren’t only there for the fun of it. Luhrmann uses his bombastic style to exemplify the heat seeking love missile Gatsby is trying to get in the sights of, his lost love, Daisy (Carey Mulligan). Luhrmann builds romantic tension between Gatsby and Daisy like any other master of suspense or terror, but he’s plucking on your heart strings. The build up to their reunion is great and Mulligan and DiCaprio shimmer in these moments together.
Despite the elegant romantic hook of the story, it’s all trashed by Maguire who has all the charisma of a wet blanket and is presented like a frumpy version of Keyser Söze from The Usual Suspects recounting every minute plot detail and excessive backstory through narration. Carraway is the passageway through which the audience can access the world of Gatsby, but he’s the kind of guy I’d hate to sit next to on a 12 hour flight.
For a film set in and around New York City, it all feels too artificial (the film was shot in Australia). It may be the intention of Luhrmann to reflect the synthetic world the wealthy characters inhabit, but the atmosphere of the real New York always plays such a big part in so many films. Considering the budget of the production was over $100 million, they could have spent some cash on a smidge of time in the Big Apple. The digital recreations are flabby imposters and it’s a digital effects crime on par with Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequels. The amount of green screen used even has an effect on the actors with DiCaprio looking like a wax figurine against the mock backdrops.
The Great Gatsby has a really sweet romantic hook and Luhrmann is a master of the glitter cannon, but there is no strong dramatic pull from the material. Like the attendees of one of Gatsby’s shindigs, you’ll have a fun time but not remember much the next day.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies