The Not So Great Gatsby

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In 1992 Baz Luhrmann did a stunning film about a dowdy girl who enters a dance competition, the glitz and glamour were saved for the dance sequences and the characters had a richness so striking, special effects would not be necessary.  Twenty-one years after Strictly Ballroom, rich subtlety has been replaced for a CGI nightmare.  If Fergi were to make a two and a half hour music video I would imagine it would look something like Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.  Luhrmann’s Gatsby is the result of silly rabbit (although being told again and again that Trix are for kids) binge eating on his favorite cereal, and shitting all over the poor child’s Lincoln Logs.  Lincoln Logs are a simple toy that have entertained children for generations, smelly rainbow colored treats have ruined the nice log cabin and little Johnny starts to cry.

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I had to read The Great Gatsby in High School and thought it was OK, but Huckleberry Finn and Fahrenheit 451 would surpass F. Scott Fitzgerald’s silly novel and silly life by leaps and bounds.  The idea of living a lie on Long Island while enmeshed in the crippling effects of romantic obsession, though a stimulating literary pursuit, has been crushed and crippled by Luhrmann’s yellow Ferrari special effects.

We first meet Daisy Buchannan (Carey Mulligan) when her cousin Nick (Tobey Maguire) pays her a visit as she is swallowed by an array of curtains that dance around like the Bellagio fountain. Nick is a quaint man, a bond trader, who lives in a modest cottage next to Gatsby’s (Leo) mansion.  When Nick brings up Gatsby’s name Daisy is caught off guard.  He is the mysterious man with lavish parties that everyone around town is talking about.  As the plot unravels we find that Gatsby and Daisy had a past and he is a man of many faces.

Nick, like Stingo in Sophie’s Choice, is a character in fiction that cinema rarely produces on its own— the conscience who sits on the side lines and is able to see everything at face value.  For some reason Luhrmann decides to open with literatures beloved Nick Carraway in a nut house, apparently that much integrity can make a person crazy?  The casting of Gatsby is on point, Mulligan’s, Maguire’s and Leo’s charisma as actors are enough, they don’t need to be introduced like a magic show.  There are certain moments in the film when the CGI has calmed down a bit and the actors are able to shine by simply speaking.  Gatsby comes alive due to the actors performances, not the over the top wide shots and cartoonish digitization.

I get it Luhrmann wants to make “art,” create an artificial vision for an artificial man and do something truly original with a classic some hold as dear as Shakespeare (which he also fucked up royally in 1997) but when ones eyes actually start to hurt from all the bright and beguiling artificiality, you realize a nice home cooked meal is better than cotton candy alone.  We get it Baz the green light connotes meaning but dear lord ya don’t have to show it in every fucking shot man! In a word Baz Luhrmann get over yourself and start making movies about actual people again, not facades attempting to be more significant than the characters.

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