If you’ve ever had a feeling of anticipation prior to attending what you hope and have reason to believe will be a grand and exciting party, where the guest is immersed in celebration of something worth celebrating and eventually reaches an elevated sense of lightness, only to attend and be let down and disappointed, feeling dejected or aghast at the smallness of everything around you, you know what it means to experience The Great Gatsby.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jay Gatsby, who throws lavish parties in order to get closer to his true love, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), who long ago married the cad Tom (Joel Edgerton, the best thing about the movie), who’s cheating on Daisy with Myrtle, who figures prominently into the story’s climax, which occurs with narrative commentary by Nick (Tobey Maguire), who is related to Daisy and in awe of Gatsby. The more Nick learns about Gatsby, and there is presumably much to learn, the more he admires him. The reasons amount to the idea of having and then renouncing wealth for what passes for love. As portrayed here, Gatsby is unsophisticated and unmasculine, with no trace of boyishness or manliness and unconvincing as a man of character, ability and wealth.
The tragedy unfolds in 1922 New York society with no credibility, chemistry or sex appeal. All the close-ups, voiceovers and transitions can’t infuse a sense of mood, place and progression. Performances are flat, dull and painful to watch, especially the one by DiCaprio, whose accent comes, goes and changes. The Great Gatsby, based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald and adapted for movies in the past, starts off with a murky visual, glitters with color in rich period detail and expensive sets, costumes and pictures, and drones on and on like a hip hop recording. Appropos of this grandiose picture show, music is supplied by a bestselling hip hop record maker who made headlines for traveling to a dictatorship powered by slave labor, though the soundtrack eventually settles into jazz age songs. These are the stylings of director Baz Luhrmann.
I suspect that our dumbed down culture has caught up to his trademark style over substance. I don’t mean to pick on Baz Luhrmann, whose Strictly Ballroom is enjoyable and whose Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet (also with Mr. DiCaprio) are not without merit. Hollywood is attracted to similar pictorial stylists, including Joe Wright (Anna Karenina) and Tim Burton (Dark Shadows) when they’re not producing convoluted, pretentious films about nothing, poverty porn or the latest exercise in Tarantino torture porn. The Great Gatsby caters to the perceptual-bound mentality, without regard to a coherent or compelling character or plot, resulting in a complete failure at conveying a theme. Don’t look for concepts played in motion pictures. To rephrase the cliche, a picture like this is worth a thousand vacant stares among a population that obediently lines up for permission to travel on airplanes. Yes, it is that bad, which is why movies about wisecracking comic book heroes, superpowered aliens and dark knights substitute for realistic human tales of grandeur. The Great Gatsby confirms with glitz that glamour is gone and Hollywood’s brain drain extends far beyond Hollywood.