Friday, May 10, 2013

For Better or Worse (Worse), 'The Great Gatsby' 2.0

ABOUT 10 minutes into The Great Gatsby, Yours Truly was tempted to walk out of the beautiful Ziegfeld Theatre.

Before I bolted I quickly schooled my thoughts to ponder why I would wish to do such as thing. The answer came soon enough: I did not like what I’d seen heretofore and was convinced that it would not get any better.

In the final analysis I was right. I stayed, though, because your humble guide doesn’t leave in the middle or beginning of films. I stay until the bitter or sweet end, after the final credit and the screen fades to black.

Besides new-fangled “The Great Gatsby” isn’t so bad that anybody should walk out on it. Indeed, it has a coupla three things to recommend it. The film opens widely in the United States and Australia today. Incidentally, it was filmed in Australia, not on Long Island in New York

No doubt, Dear Readers, you’re asking yourselves why I would even contemplate walking out on what has been one of the most hyped films of the year. Simple: my immediate impression less than a quart of an hour into it, was that it reminded me of a cross between “Animal House” and “Weekend at Barney’s.” The early party scenes at the mansion where mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) resides were too over the top and, frankly, boring.

Just another wild night at the Gatsby manse in "The Great Gatsby." Photos courtesy of Warner Brothers.

Writer, producer, director Baz Luhrmann&Co. seemingly decided that the way to suggest the loosening morals of this Jazz Age is to show a party that is one garment away from a full-on orgy. It is laughable. The partygoers seem like a bunch of children playing dress up in their parents clothing.

Perhaps it is unfair to compare this film, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s now classic novel, to the 1974 version based on the same novel. Alas, comparisons are inevitable. Though “The Great Gatsby” 2.0 is more faithful to the novel, particularly in a larger focus on Nick Carraway’s (Tobey Maguire) recollections and featuring more ethnic diversity, it falls far short of the 1974 film starring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston, Bruce Dern and Lois Chiles.

Jay Gatsby is over the moon in love with Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) who is now married to true bluebood Tom (Joel Edgerton.) Gatsby enlists Daisy’s cousin, Nick, as matchmaker. At this juncture the story really begins to unfold until it unravels.

“The Great Gatsby” 2.0 is so much like this current age and “relevant to now” as suggested in its production notes. It is loud, coarse, puerile, shallow and lacking in subtlety. Further, it plays more like a comedy rather than a tragic love story. “The Great Gatsby” is the story about the boundless love of one man for one woman. If only every woman at least once in her lifetime could be with a man who loves her thus.

Of the main five characters in “The Great Gatsby” 2.0., only LdiC as Jay Gatsby and Australian newcomer and recent college grad Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker shine in their roles. CM as Daisy Buchanan, the love of Gatsby’s life and TM as Daisy’s cousin and Gatsby’s neighbor, Nick Carraway, are particularly miscast. CM doesn’t convey Daisy’s vulnerability, while TM is more wide-eyed geek than a grounded Midwesterner.

Meanwhile, why, oh why did BL shoot this film in 3D? Just because the technology exists does not mean that one must avail himself of it. It works for a “Spiderman”; it’s out of place in “The Great Gatsby" 2.0. Ditch the infernal 3D glasses and enjoy the basic HD version. The film is sumptuous visually. Simon Duggan's cinematography is breathtaking. Sets and costumes by Catherine Martin are sublime.

Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) welcomes his woman Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton).

The soundtrack, on which Jay-Z serves as executive producer, is an interesting mix, featuring Jay-Z, Kanye West, Fergie and others. The orchestration of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” performed by Beyoncé and André 3000, is both beautiful and haunting; Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love,” performed by Emeli Sandé, sticks out like a sore thumb.

"Young and Beautiful," performed by Lana Del Rey, is the album’s lead single. It plays during love and play scenes between Gatsby and Daisy. The song effectively captures the insouciance that Gatsby tries to recapture when he’s with Daisy that so marked their life before he went off to war and she married another.

Nick (Tobey Maguire) and Jordan (Elizabeth Debicki) are enablers in "The Great Gatsby."

Jay-Z is also a producer of “The Great Gatsby” 2.0. One wonders whether he used any of his influence to get blacks cast in roles other than as servants or whether this element is part of the director’s desire to be more faithful to the book.

After all, blacks (called Negroes at the time) would have been present in the various speakeasy joints, for instance or at the filling station. Or living in tenements amongst poor "ethnic" whites who were allowed to call themselves white but were accorded very few "white skin" privileges by the WASP power structure.

Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and Leo (Leonardo DiCaprio) have a moment in "The Great Gatsby."

One quibble: the black female speakeasy dancer might have looked a bit less like a hooker. Many of these women were beautiful and might have been mistaken for models …Owl eyes (Max Cullen) is one of the best things about the film.

Purists will think “The Great Gatsby” 2.0 hideous. Young people will be delighted.

Visit to learn more about "The Great Gatsby"; the film is rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language. Rx.

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