My relationship with Baz Luhrmann films has evolved over time. When I first saw his take on Romeo + Juliet at summer camp when I was 14, I absolutely hated it. Then when we had to watch it in my freshman English class, I hated it a little less. It took me three tries watching Moulin Rouge! to get past the first half hour. When I finally saw the rest of Moulin Rouge! last year, I absolutely fell in love with it. After hearing Luhrmann planned to take on the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic The Great Gatsby, I was cautiously optimistic. The more I heard about his plans to have Jay-Z lead the soundtrack, the more I planned to just separate the book from the film adaptation in my mind.
Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised. I have not read Gatsby since my junior year of high school, but I remembered that I loved it. I had every intention of rereading it before seeing the film, but that did not happen. I remembered a lot of symbolism with eyes and lights. I read all the articles questioning how Luhrmann would translate the narrative structure of the novel into a quality film. Although it has been six years since I read the novel, it seemed like Luhrmann stuck close to the source material.
The biggest difference was in how Nick (Tobey Maguire) tells the story. In the novel, Nick is essentially treated like the author of the story. In the film, we see Nick writing a novel based on the summer, but he is in a mental institution while doing so. Luhrmann’s Nick is suffering from anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and several other things. I don’t really think that change was necessary, but it did not ruin the film for me.
As soon as Luhrmann signs his name to any film, the audience can be certain the movie is going to be a spectacle. It will be filled with vibrant production design, a mixture of modern and historical music, and sweeping cinematography. Many people were worried the use of a modern soundtrack would take away from the setting in the Jazz Age. However, Luhrmann actually used the music to highlight that. Although Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Kanye West are all on the soundtrack, their music really only appears during party scenes and is often mixed with jazz. It’s a really cool melding of the historical and modern that helps to illustrate how the story is still relevant. The music that stood out the most to me, though, was the songs used during the more dramatic portions of the film. In particular, Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” might as well have been subtitled “Daisy’s Theme.” The haunting repetition of “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful” helped to give Daisy (Carey Mulligan) more depth and better communicate her motives.
My biggest problem with the film was with the casting of Maguire, however. Nick is supposed to be this naive, idealistic young man. He makes a remark during the course of the film that he has just turned 30 years old. He is clearly supposed to be younger than Gatsby. Maguire was simply too old to play this part. Although he looks younger than his 37 years, there was not enough of an age difference between him and Gatsby. Leonardo DiCaprio was absolutely perfect for Gatsby’s part. He had the perfect mix of maturity and youthful hope that was needed to make his role believable. I would have much rather seen someone like Andrew Garfield, Jeremy Jordan, or Emile Hirsch as Nick.
There is no denying that Daisy is not exactly the most developed character in the story. She is essentially a prop for Gatsby’s hope and affection. Her role is to be beautiful and unattainable. However, Mulligan did a phenomenal job in making her more well-rounded. Her inner battle between her love for Gatsby and her attachment to her husband Tom (the fantastically terrifying Joel Edgerton) made me truly feel for her. I also wanted her entire wardrobe because everything she wore was completely beautiful.
The bottom line with this film is you’ll like it if you like Baz Luhrmann films. If you don’t want anything modern mixed in with the text of the novel, you probably will not care for this. I saw the film in 3D because of scheduling, but I don’t feel seeing it in 2D would detract from the experience. I will say the final ten minutes were absolutely astounding in 3D, but I think it would be just as powerful in 2D. I left the theater completely breathless and anxiously awaiting the next time I can go see it. It probably won’t be until it gets to the $3 theater near my apartment, but I’ll be there as soon as it gets there.