Director Baz Luhrmann’s take on the literary classic, “The Great Gatsby,” is a shallow film with unlikable, one-dimensional characters and a predictable story. Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is rich, yet cowardly. His love, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), is flaky and insincere. Her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) is unfaithful and her cousin Nick (Toby Maguire) has no personality and merely serves as the eyes and ears for the audience. Sure, the film looks very pretty, but it’s mostly due to CGI rather than set design. And what is with the soundtrack? Modern hip-hop in a movie set in the 1920s? “The Great Gatsby” is another classic example of style over substance.
So what does it say about me that I enjoyed the film so much?
To be perfectly frank, I’m not proud to admit that I have been accused of being shallow, and it frightens me that my enjoyment of this film could possibly be justifying that remark. For example, all the main characters can easily be labeled within five minutes of screen time, and not a single one develops over the course of the movie. He’s the rich, pompous jerk. She’s the whore. He’s the mysterious guy. She’s the empty-hearted object of affection. He’s the narrator. And so on. So why was I so engrossed by their stories and rooting so much for Gatsby to win his true love back? Am I that easily amused?
Granted, the party scenes are pretty fun to watch, and there’s no shortage of decadence. Luhrmann also does a great job of implementing the 3D technology to really put the audience in the center of the action. You can almost feel the party happening around you and feel the same awe that Nick does when he first enters Gatsby’s crazy world. But it’s almost shameful to admit that all it takes is a few glossy visuals to cover up a razor thin storyline.
But is that the fault of the director or the original source material? I remember owning a copy of “The Great Gatsby” in high school, but that’s about it. Who knows if I actually cracked the spine and turned a page or two? So not having any recollection of the novel, I went into the film with a pretty clean slate, knowing only that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work was considered a literary classic. Maybe there’s something lost in the transition from page to screen because I have a hard time imagining that his characters could be so flimsy and predictable.
Perhaps my enjoyment of the film comes from its similarities to “Scarface,” an all-time favorite of mine. I’m probably the only person who would make such a comparison, but the parallels are definitely there. They’re both stories of a man who came from nothing and did everything he could, including illegal activity, to gain riches and win the love of a woman who had no love to give. Yes, “The Great Gatsby” is “Scarface” minus the cocaine and automatic weapons. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
“The Great Gatsby,” 143 minutes, is Rated PG-13 and opens in theaters today.