The Great Gatsby

Directed By: Baz Luhrmann

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Amitabh Bachchan, and Elizabeth Debicki

Baz Luhrmann's "modern" take on the classic American novel The Great Gatsby was originally set to be released on Christmas day last year.  This would have landed the film in direct competition with the likes of Les Miserables and Django Unchained, which were also released on the same day.  To make matters worse, Leonardo DiCaprio, the star of Gatsby, was also featured in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained.  That's not even considering films already in theaters at that time like The Hobbit, Jack Reacher, and Silver Linings Playbook.  It's needless to say that the holiday season would not have been kind to The Great Gatsby

Regardless of all of this, I think the execs at Warner Bros. are out of their damn minds to move the film to a week after 2013's presumptive box office champion Iron Man 3 and a week before J.J. Abrams's Star Trek: Into Darkness, another presumptive box office titan.  Moving into competition with the heavyweight blockbusters doesn't seem like the best way to get some traction or buzz for an adaptation of the novel everybody reads in high school.  If Gatsby couldn't hang with Django and Jean Valjean, what makes them think he can hang with Tony Stark and Captain Kirk?  I have no idea why they would ever give this schedule change the green light.

It's the Roaring Twenties.  Money is growing on trees as Wall Street booms away.  Liquor is flowing and nearly free as Prohibition has had the unintended consequence of lowering prices for alcohol.  Life is just beautiful at this time, and bond broker Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) remembers it all.  He remembers his life in New York with his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton).  He remembers going to insane parties with their golfer friend Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki).  Most of all, he remembers Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), the most hopeful man he's ever met.

Nick has just moved into a new place in Long Island.  He happens to live next door to a man by the name of Jay Gatsby who lives in a grand mansion and eerily watches him quite frequently.  One night, Nick gets an invitation to come over to Gatsby's house.  When he goes, he finds that this grand mansion has come to life with hundreds of people partying the night away.  Unbeknownst to Nick, this happens every night.  While at the party, Nick meets Gatsby, who gives Nick a full introduction to his colorful, lavish world.  As he learns more about his mysterious neighbor, Nick comes to realize that Gatsby is a man who can't let go of the past.

While watching The Great Gatsby, I oddly found myself thinking of last year’s Anna Karenina.  Like Joe Wright's adaptation of the nineteenth century love story, Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of this twentieth century novel is a classic example of style over substance.  Luhrmann's idea was to modernize Gatsby while keeping it in the 1920s, which sounds a bit counterintuitive.  What that means is that we have colorful, vibrant visuals to bring the 1920s roaring back to life in this modernized period piece.  It means that we hear Jay-Z (and a little Beyonce) instead of early jazz music as the characters party the night away at Gatsby's mansion.  It means we have floating text on screen as opposed to genuine storytelling. 

Ultimately, Luhrmann has a lot of awesome ideas that contribute to this elaborate, modern setting.  However, they do nothing to bring the core of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic story to life in a new, inventive way for this generation.  I'm a fan of Jay-Z and Beyonce as much as the next guy, and I understand that leveraging bass-pumping songs like "Izzo" and "Crazy in Love" may be the hot thing to do to get the teen crowd's attention.  That being said, it's not the right move to make a good movie or to try to modernize a story that was written nearly a century ago.  Luhrmann's Gatsby is a hollow shell of what Fitzgerald intended it to be and is more of a bizarre caricature of the 1920s than a modern interpretation of this fateful decade.

The film's cast is good on paper but not in practice together.  Take Leonardo DiCaprio for example.  He's a great Gatsby (for lack of a better term), and his monologues are exceptionally enjoyable.  However, he has terrible chemistry with his fellow cast members, especially Carey Mulligan who plays Gatsby's love interest Daisy Buchanan.  Another great example is Tobey Maguire, who portrays Nick Carraway.  Our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is a great narrator, but he doesn't connect well with the audience.  Maguire doesn't make us care at all about his place at the center of this web of secrets.

DiCaprio and Maguire are the ones who deliver the halfway decent performances.  Everyone else just falls to mediocrity in this strange romantic drama.  In her performance as Daisy Buchanan, Carey Mulligan is just bland, bland, bland.  Mulligan, who brings no personality whatsoever to the film, might just be the worst part of the movie.  As Daisy's husband Tom Buchanan and her best friend Jordan Baker respectively, Joel Edgerton and Elizabeth Debicki are almost just as boring.  These two bring no passion to their characters, and this is obvious in the final product.

All in all, Luhrmann's biggest mistake with The Great Gatsby is to assume that it's a modern tale.  Having cheating husbands, long-lost loves, and plenty of secrets are not what makes a story modern.  That's what makes a story timeless.  We're not the first generation to have adulterers.  We're not the first generation to have home-wreckers.  We're not the first generation to have lovers with secrets.  If Luhrmann had decided to honor Fitzgerald's material instead of distort it, this movie could have been so much better.  Having a cast with better chemistry on screen would have helped as well.  As it stands, I can't give this movie the green light.  The Great Gatsby gets a 0.09% rating.  Have a few glasses of Scotch with this one.