SCORE: 1.5 stars (out of 4)
Think back to high school, when you were too stupid to know the shortcuts you would learn in college and actually read things the teachers told you to read. One of the books you surely stuck your pimply nose into was The Great Gatsby. As books go, it was life-changing – The sort of thing, like The Catcher in the Rye or The Grapes of Wrath – that would either light your fire for great literature or forever make you resent printed words and spend the rest of your life trying to avoid them.
When director Baz Luhrmann stuck his pimply nose inside Gatsby, maybe he thought his fire was lit, but it was actually a villager-style torch, complete with pitchfork and angry mob. Subconsciously or not, Baz was determined to burn the sucker to the ground.
His movie will do more to prevent teenagers from reading than Jersey Shore marathons. It’s not that he screws up the book in the standard way, by re-arranging plot points or eliminating important characters. He includes pretty much everything in the book, but he makes it sound so forced, fake and stupid. It’s just like when you tell your idiot younger brother a great story or joke, only to have to suffer for his braindead interpretation of what you just said.
If this movie were a video game, it would be Angry Birds style, with you pulling back Gatsby to shoot and topple over New York buildings, with dancing idiots instead of pigs.
Oh, and the soundtrack would be muzak remixes of Jay-Z, Beyonce and Kanye.
Yep, Luhrmann does his Moulin Rouge thing again, pairing modern music with period settings to make a commentary on thematic parallels to modernity or something or other. What he creates, more than anything, is unintended comedy. There’s nothing like seeing tuxedoed jazz-hand dudes and pomaded flappers flapping away to the beatz of the streetz. At least the weird music choices insure that the movie will be so dated within a few years that no one will bother with it anymore.
The movie’s high point, by far, is Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, who exudes roaring 20s devil-be-damned cockiness as a mysterious playboy. Tobey Maguire plays the wide-eyed narrator, who is willfully sucked into Gatsby’s debauchery. A self-made millionaire playboy who throws endless parties in his palatial mansion, the Maguire character drones on and on as he dissects the hollowness of the scene.
There’s a twist of sorts involving Gatsby’s motivation for crafting his lifestyle, and it’s delivered with the subtlety of a 5 A.M. sledgehammer, with a carousel of thin-sliced characters played by Joel Edgerton, Carey Mulligan and Isla Fisher. Fitzgerald, too, prodded the hedonistic selfishness of the social circle, but he at least gave you reasons to care about the characters he’d crumple.
Not only is the book better than the movie, but in this case that stupid fake video game I mentioned earlier probably would be, too.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Carey Mulligan and Isla Fisher. Written by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pierce, based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Directed by Luhrmann. 143 minutes. Rated PG-13.