A man walks into his cousin’s life, meeting her tycoon husband and suddenly gets his pass into the 1920’s New York high life. His mysterious — but extremely wealthy — neighbor throws up huge party at his huge mansion every week, and secretly was the old lover of the man’s cousin who tries to get her off her unfaithful husband. Drama ensues.
There. I just saved you from trying to read into the already simple storyline of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, a high concept adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic 1925 novel of the same name. Despite having a certain affection of American Classics, I somehow haven’t got to reading the actual novel, but I can tell you one or two things about the 2013 adaptation: the whole damn thing is incoherent. Not the story, fortunately, since most literature adaptations are usually saved in the story department however bad the whole movie is, but the way everything else connects with each other to create a bearable movie.
The slow motion scenes. The costume design (this one is actually wonderful). The overlaid quotes. The cheesy CGI. And the worst offender, the hip-hop/The XX/whatever else resembling a soundtrack! Look, many people dislike Sucker Punch like it was Hitler’s first movie. I liked it, since Zack Snyder made it fully conscious that it will be so over-the-top as the movie goes that he can hear the jaws dropping on the floor as the robot samurai dragons or whatever they are march to their death by the protagonist girls in their scantily clad outfits. It was meant to be extravagant. It was Snyder’s wet dream, and people should forgive him for still making a decent movie out of it.
Meanwhile, The Great Gatsby, as far as I’m concerned, was about 1920s America. A real decade in a real world, despite being set in the fictional West Egg somewhere in Long Island, NYC. Luhrmann made a good approach with a wonderful detail to art direction, creating wonderful costumes and lavishly extraordinary scene of Gatsby’s house parties. But it doesn’t seem to come anywhere beyond the eye candies. Nobody can deny that what is beneath is just a simple love drama between three people, and Luhrmann never tries to expand beyond that. Tarsem’s The Fall practiced minimalist storyline with gorgeous costume design and cinematography. Premium Rush explored a simple, well-thought premise through high tension scenes to keep you on the edge of the seat. Luhrmann’s Gatsby adopts none of those, and instead layered a very basic drama with pretty costumes and endless CGI makeup. If I wasn’t familiar with the title before, I wouldn’t believe it was an adaptation of what is considered as one of the Great American Novels.
The only thing worse than the sleep-inducing story exploration is its incapability of creating the atmosphere of NYC in the 1920’s. During the movie I asked myself numerous times on what inspires the director to insert a half-decent rendition of Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” in one of the scenes. Holy crap. I’m pretty sure in one of the deleted scenes there were a time traveler who accidentally gave his middle school music collection to the folks in dapper pants. Is this American Pie? And in the mellower scene there was that signature The XX sound. Come on, this isn’t Twilight. Not to mention Lana Del Rey. I’m pretty sure Pitchfork jizzed in their pants, let me check for a moment — nope, even they hated it. Dude. I’m not exactly against putting outlandish music in your movie, but I’m not sure many people would appreciate an unexpected reality check halfway through their popcorn. Sorry Luhrmann, but Nick Carraway should have better left his draft titled simply “Gatsby”.
Full disclosure: Aside of not having read the original novel, I also might or might not have fallen asleep for a couple minutes while watching, so maybe I’m missing a thing or two here.