Baz Lurhmann’s The Great Gatsby was never going to be a film that everyone enjoys. With previous love it or hate it offerings like Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, you’d be foolish to expect his take on Fitzgerald’s classic novel to be anything short of controversial. What Lurhmann has achieved is largely entertaining and certainly daring, but falls short of its aim to dazzle its audience, as it fails to capture the subtle disillusionment of Fitzgerald’s work, and its overall point about American lives.
Just in case you never read the book at school: The Great Gatsby follows a young writer, Nick Carraway (played by a largely forgettable Toby Maguire) as he seeks to navigate the raucous and rowdy social world of 1920’s Long Island. He becomes acquainted with his enigmatic next door neighbour, Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a man with a thousand different back stories depending on who you ask, now famous for throwing parties and being outrageously wealthy. Nick is charged with the task of reuniting Gatsby with Daisy (Carey Mulligan), Nick’s cousin and Gatsby’s former lover. Their love affair has unpleasant consequences for everyone around them, and Nick finds himself the witness to all the disappointments that the Jazz Age had to offer, along with Gatsby’s fall from grace.
The plot of the film remains true to the novel, with some dialogue intact and there is an attempt on Lurhmann’s part to get the key themes across; but this is often done in a clunky and obvious manner. The 3D visuals of The Great Gatsby become tiresome very quickly, and the contemporary music superimposed feels more gimmicky than edgy. Although DiCaprio puts in a strong effort and does a decent job at the title role, he has very little chemistry with Mulligan, and the rest of the film’s actors largely fade into the background as the hundreds of dancing flappers and confetti coming out of the screen soak up all of Lurhmann’s attention. The Great Gatsby feels like a missed opportunity at something slightly more subtle than this brash affair.