Movie Review: The Great Gatsby
By Matthew Huntley
May 20, 2013
But there’s an ulterior motive to Gatsby’s offer. Nick is the cousin of Daisy Buchanan (Carrie Mulligan), a somewhat self-centered woman who was once the love of Gatsby’s life. She lives across the bay and is now married, rather unhappily, to Tom (Joel Edgerton), a brutish adulterer who’s perfectly happy to keep a mistress named Myrtle (Isla Fisher) but will not hear of his own wife having an affair. Perhaps it’s because of her own misery that Daisy sets Nick up with her good friend Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki), a professional golfer and free-loader who’s often more concerned with gossip than anything else. She and Tom lure Nick into a life of hedonism and selfishness, the first time being when Tom takes him to a party at Myrtle’s in the “valley of ashes,” an industrial park in between Long Island and New York City that contains the human and environmental by-products of the American Dream. Overlooking the gray and poverty-stricken town is a run-down billboard of a man with glasses that was, at one time, an advertisement for an oculist but which now serves as the eyes of God, or so many believe.
Gatsby has known for a long time that Daisy lives across from him and confesses his extravagant lifestyle and parties were all part of an elaborate attempt to woo her back. Through Nick, Gatsby arranges to meet with her and the two quickly rekindle their affair, which intertwines all the characters as they’re tested against the highs and lows of love, loyalty and moral values. Not everyone will survive.
More of the plot, I won’t reveal, but odds are you’re familiar with it already because the source material is often considered one of the great American novels. And like the novel, underneath its expensive production, The Great Gatsby is a tragic love story and cautionary tale with a lasting effect. Its messages and themes may be flagrant, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful. And while the cast and filmmakers are more than qualified to deliver on them, they take too long and there are too many moments of grandiose, long-winded dialogue. I remember Fitzgerald’s work, which is less than 200 pages, being terse and to the point. Lurhmann’s interpretation, however, is anything but.
Take, for instance, the sequence when Gatsby arranges his meeting with Daisy at Nick’s house. He hires gardeners and decorators to make everything look perfect. The humor and drama that could have been conveyed in just a few minutes of screen time is stretched out over several, so much that we grow weary and begin to lose interest. This is one of many scenes like this, and although the actors are charming and convincing, the pace at which the film traverses its story begins to take its toll, while the design elements are excessive.
The question isn’t whether Lurhmann’s The Great Gatsby is a loyal adaptation of Fitzgerald’s time-honored piece, but whether it’s a standalone good movie, one that’s entertaining, introspective, interesting and thoughtful. For the most part, I would say that it’s not. The movie is just too big, loud and lavish for its own good, and just like they do for the characters, these qualities prove to be its downfall. I doubt that was Lurhmann’s ironic intention. In the end, we’re supposed to empathize with the characters feeling unfulfilled, not actually feel that way ourselves.