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There's a scene in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby in which Leonardo DiCaprio's hyperrich, super-awkward Jay Gatsby takes it upon himself to redecorate the bachelor pad of his less prosperous friend Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire). Gatsby's old flame, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), is coming to Nick's house for tea. Eager to impress her, Gatsby has brought in boughs draped with explosive white flowers, macaroons in every color of the paint box, and tiered cakes coated with silky, pastel-hued frosting straight out of Marie Antoinette's court. "You think it's too much?" he asks Nick, anxiously. Nick offers a polite answer: "I think it's what you want."

The Great Gatsby is both too much and what Luhrmann wants, less a movie version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel than a movie version of Jay Gatsby himself. It's an expressionist work, a story reinvented to the point of total self-invention, polished to a handsome sheen and possessing no class or taste beyond the kind you can buy. And those are the reasons to love it.

Outraged Gatsbyites took to the Twitterverse last May, just after the release of the gaudy first trailer, a nutball extravaganza of flappers in beaded Miu Miu dresses losing their shit to Jay-Z and Kanye West's hypnotic and decadent "No Church in the Wild." How dare Luhrmann desecrate F. Scott's delicate classic! More recently, the novel has risen to the top of the bestseller list—people who have never read it now want to, thanks to all the movie hype. That should be great, right? Not for everybody: Last week, in The New York Times, an employee of groovy-chic Soho bookstore McNally Jackson expressed dismay that the masses were buying the movie tie-in, not the edition with Francis Cugat's original blue-toned, weeping-eye cover art, the only one McNally Jackson sells. Apparently, Fitzgerald's beautiful, ferocious novel is only for those who have been blessed with special sophistication and discernment.

Am I great yet? DiCaprio among splendor.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Am I great yet? DiCaprio among splendor.

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Luhrmann will have none of that. His Gatsby—rendered in 3-D, no less—is garish and over the top, and like all Luhrmann's movies (even the lovely ones, like William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet), self-consciousness and silliness creep in through its cracks. It seldom, if ever, captures that fierce delicacy of feeling Fitzgerald packed into every sentence. And it's not an actors' movie. DiCaprio has some moving moments—when he sees his beloved Daisy and gets love-struck all over again, his face momentarily takes on the bewildered softness he had as a child actor.

But mostly, the performers look lost in Luhrmann's extravagant panorama. They deliver their lines (which are generally drawn straight from Fitzgerald) with care and respect, like birds entrusted with very special eggs. You sometimes get the feeling they're afraid to sully them with anything so presumptuous as interpretation.

No, this Gatsby is a mess. But it moves, it breathes, it has color on its side, and because of that, it feels far more respectful to the source material than Jack Clayton's dreary 1974 number, in which Mia Farrow and Robert Redford drifted about wanly in overpressed linen and droopy chiffon. Luhrmann (who, with Craig Pearce, co-wrote the screenplay) hasn't taken too many liberties with the basics: Maguire's Nick Carraway, the story's narrator and conscience, has just moved from Chicago to New York, specifically to a tony part of Long Island where his delicate wildflower cousin, Daisy, lives with her pompous, cheating husband, Tom (Zero Dark Thirty's Joel Edgerton). Across the bay from Daisy's palatial spread—the grounds dotted with gardens that look like dishes of candy—is an even bigger mansion. That one, gleaming like the castle in the opening of The Wonderful World of Disney, is owned by mystery figure Jay Gatsby, a man known for his decadent, costly parties, even though he doesn't like parties at all: He's just hoping to lure his old love Daisy across the bay, which, with Carraway's help, he eventually does, opening the door wide to tragedy.

Luhrmann doesn't do so well with that. The movie's last section, which is so tense in the novel, is strained and awkward here. But the energy of what comes before counts for something. Though Fitzgerald couldn't have known it, he wrote a scene tailor-made for 3-D, the one in which Gatsby rummages through his collection of brilliantly colored silk shirts and tosses one after another toward his lady love. In Luhrmann's vision, they float down around Daisy like polychrome snowflakes. Luhrmann has also made some dashing and witty casting choices—for example, giving the role of shifty gangster Meyer Wolfsheim to Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, whose facial hair actually suggests a wolf.

And then there are the parties. And that's what you really wanted to know about, right? Luhrmann, director of photography Simon Duggan, and production and costume designer Catherine Martin don't skimp on the spectacle: Confetti falls like silver rain. Champagne glasses glint in the light. Garters, teddies, and fringe shimmy everywhere. Many of the costumes come courtesy of Miu Miu and Prada, and they include swishy silk kimonos and sheer dresses whose beading looks as if it were sewn onto air. It's all so fake. It should all be so horrible. But really, all Luhrmann has done is build a crazy art-deco Taj Mahal to the glory of The Great Gatsby. Like Gatsby, Luhrmann is a faker but not a phony. Fitzgerald knew the difference. Can we see it, too?

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9 comments
JeremyinOz
JeremyinOz

It's great to see you reviewing again Stephanie - you've always been a favourite. 

Jeremy In Oz.

Sand1
Sand1

I do not understand the backlash against Baz Luhrmann and his artistic choices, This director is brilliant and is over the top when the subject matter requires it. The time and world of Gatsby created by F. Scott Fitzgerald was never one of elegance, manners and breeding but one of gaudiness, excess and vulgarities; nouveau rich as it were, very much so like today american society ( i.e. Donald Trump) and the lives of celebrities as well as Wall Street millionaires. It is unfathomable that critics think that the cinematic treatment of the Great Gatsby should be that of "Masterpiece Theater" because of the time period. Luhrmann aptly captured the pervasive nouveau rich mentality and behavior of that period, it was never one of gentility.

ILPS9000
ILPS9000

Sounds like yet another 3D movie with a 1D script...

sreerammynam
sreerammynam

Thadaka Review

http://www.mirchi9.com/movienews/thadaka-review/

While his father Nagarjuna’s Greekuveerudu simply entered the theaters, Naga Chaitanya is prepared to require him head on head. His latest show, Thadaka is prepared to unleash next week.The show is prepared for unleash on could tenth in record variety of theaters worldwide. Reports recommend that Nagarjuna isn't proud of Bellamkonda’s call and is attempting to tug it back.

Remake of Tamil hit, Vettai, the film stars Tamannah as heroine opposite Naga Chaitanya and Andrea Jeremiah for Sunil. it's being directed by ‘Konchem Ishtam Konchem Kashtam’ fame Dolly and is made by Bellamkonda Suresh beneath his Sri Sai Hindu deity Productions banner. Thaman is that the music musician.

http://www.mirchi9.com/movienews/thadaka-review/

BluBird76
BluBird76

I hate how everyone seems to love to criticize Baz Luhrmann. He's a very talented and unique film director. All of his films have been good, even the underrated Australia and he makes films that feel special. Most films in the past decade have felt like soulless products meant only for making money, while Luhrmann's films remind me of a kind of movie magic that doesn't happen often enough. I would love to see people like Michelle Pfeiffer, Audrey Tautou, and Charlize Theron work with Luhrmann, he reminds me of film makers like Pedro Almodóvar.

Dan Leonard
Dan Leonard

effing awful it looks like,, another drinking game...

Stephen Stephan
Stephen Stephan

It looks like a mess but a mess i want to see in 3D. I love his movies...even his bad ones!

Binkconn
Binkconn

@BluBird76 Are you kidding? I had to turn off Australia after a few minutes, and remember watching Moulin Rouge while stoned at some 2001 New Year's Eve party, giggling to myself, "This movie is just terrible."  He cuts frantically from wide to close-up to medium shots as if he hadn't a clue what he was doing, his movies the equivalent of some gay sugar rush. Most likely a lot of Gatsby is awful.

 

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