Nick Carraway meant to be a writer but is lured by the temptation of easy money to New York City for work, and a shack to stay in outside the city, on Long Island. He’s sandwiched between mansions, and across the bay dwells the old money, including his cousin Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom. But everyone’s gossiping about Nick’s mysterious neighbour, Jay Gatsby.
There’s almost no one more suited to the decadence of The Great Gatsby than director Baz Luhrmann. Certainly Gatsby’s epic parties, brimming with booze, booming music, and beaded dresses, are brought to life with enthusiasm and an orgasmic level of detail under his direction.
But F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal novel isn’t just about the excess, but its flip side as well, the roaring/rotten 20s, the social upheaval and the resistance to change. But maybe a novel as ambitious as this, a book that has spoken to us for generations, belongs strictly to the page. Because as much as Baz Luhrmann gets right, the movie never quite grabs you the way it’s meant to. The way it should. Sean is a philistine who’s never actually read the novel (gasp!) and I wonder how his experience of the film differs from mine. For that matter, his experience of life.
Gatsby, you see, is the mysterious figure who haunts the pages of Fitzgerald’s genius work, but in the film, he’s all too knowable, especially when navigated by Leonardo DiCaprio, a muse of Luhrmann’s and an extremely familiar face to American moviegoers. And Tobey Maguire was already over when Luhrmann cast him as Carraway, the news just hadn’t quite made it to Australia yet. But Carey Mulligan as the luminous, quintessential, ethereal Daisy Buchanan? That was right. Inspired, even.
The best thing about this movie is and always has been Jay-Z’s genre-defying soundtrack. Luhrmann is no stranger to pairing period films with modern music to dazzling effect, but hip hop fits 1924 like it was always there, nestled between the cigarette holders and the champagne fountains and the bobbed haircuts. The costumes are a close second of course, every woman dripping with pearls and jet beads and scandalously raised hemlines. The accoutrements are perfection, so right that they almost distract from the fact that the movie itself is just wrong. And it’s not that anyone could have done it better. It’s probably just that no one should have even tried.