Yeah, I'll agree with this one. This is a well deserved PG-13. It's got some uncomfortable stuff in it. That's really fun when you a teacher who shows this your classes every year. Multiple times a day, I hear language in songs and people wearing skimpy clothing dancing when showing this one. Also, if looking at the book in context of the movie, it is a story about extramarital affairs. If I had to step back, I guess the movie could have been more in your face because the movie was shooting for a PG-13 rating, without a doubt.
DIRECTOR: Baz Luhrmann
Baz Luhrmann tries too hard.
Oh, I have to write more? That's pretty much most of my review for the movie version of the book. I'm really going to have to watch what I write with this review because my boss loves everything F. Scott Fitzgerald. I bet she's reading this right now. Out of all the reviews I've written, this one actually has personal stakes. Regardless, I'm going to try to maintain my standards and review this honestly. Also, Hemingway rules. (Unless, of course, that involves me keeping my job. In that scenario, F. Scott Fitzgerald is the only real author that exists and I've never heard of Ernest Hemingway. I think he's the owner of some kind of tropical themed chain restaurant that closed in the early 2000s. Can't even make a decent tilapia, that guy.)
I used to be a big Baz Luhrmann fan back in the early 2000s, around the time that Hemingway's restaurant closed. I thought Moulin Rouge! was the best movie ever made. I watched that movie way too much. I was what they referred to as a "cool guy". The soundtrack would be blasting in my car. Then I watched a lot of movies that were considered classics. After I became a learned scholar of film, I revisited Moulin Rouge! as a blast from the past. That movie is a pile of hot garbage. I rewatched William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet and then watched Australia. Oh my goodness, Baz Luhrmann has no idea what subtlety means. Everything is just screamed at the audience. His films are the equivalent of writing in all caps. So how do I approach Gatsby knowing that I no longer like Luhrmann and, by proxy, seventeen year old me? I mean, I show the movie every year. I could be really embracing my inner and outer snob and show the Robert Redford version. It's on Netflix. I wouldn't even have to buy it. The thing is, the 2013 version gets a lot right. It has Baz Luhrmann's dirty gross filmmaking style all over it, but The Great Gatsby is a fun book to do that with. I would love, as a cinematic experience, to have a bunch of directors who have a very noticable film style and all have them adapt the same classic novel. I would love to have Martin Scorsese's The Great Gatsby and Wes Anderson's The Great Gatsby and Francis Ford Coppolla's The Great Gatsby. You'd have to name them with the directors, but that's something I'd kill to see. Anyway, I treat Lurhmann's Gatsby with that kind of attitude. He can't help but be himself sometimes and if I can accept it, the movie kind of works. It's not an absolute success. Like his other movies, he gets in the way of himself with his obsession with flash. Like Moulin Rouge! or Romeo + Juliet, the first fifteen minutes and the last five minutes are so over the top that it is just distracting. It's only when he focuses on the narrative that he gets things right.
From an English teacher's perspective, Luhrmann does something that I normally would criticize him for, but I like it in this case. There are moments where he is slavish to the novel. Except for the absolute beginning and the absolute end, he hits every beat of the Fitzgerald novel. Like, he hits little details that were important to the book as a whole, but make little sense to show in a film that is meant to be streamlined. Like, Gatsby catches the clock. From a literary perspective, that moment is key. But from a story that doesn't allow for beats to happen, Luhrmann decides to give this moment an odd amount of importance. I think that Luhrmann absolutely loves the book like my principal loves the book. He knows the value of that moment. My students also know the importance of that moment, which is awesome as an English teacher. But this might be more of an example of how Luhrmann gets carte blanche when it comes to movies. I don't know how gets it. Maybe its part of his contract or maybe he's just self-financing a chunk of the movie, but I can't imagine a studio being cool with some of the moments he stuck in the movie in respect for Fitzgerald. (I just realized that I'm writing a paragraph about how Baz Luhrmann, a guy seemingly impressed by his own brilliance, is respectful to Fitzgerald. This is the same movie that has a hip hop score and turned Leo raising a champagne glass into a meme.) Perhaps that's what makes this movie work better than the other works he has adapted. Romeo + Juliet felt like an experiment. It felt like he took a play that wasn't reaching teenagers and trying to see if he could make it cool for kids to like Shakespeare. From that perspective, there has to be a bit of disregard for the author in that case. He took something that he saw as boring and turned it cool. (I don't think he achieved it. I like Shakespeare and that movie is an abomination.) The same is true for Moulin Rouge! After all, opera is boring, but Moulin Rouge! isn't. It may not be a great movie anymore, but it isn't boring. And look, they're still singing. But Gatsby feels like he wants people to love Fitzgerald as much as he does and that's probably the best attitude to go in with.
The anachronisms are an interesting choice. I'm writing this to the soundtrack. If you haven't seen this movie, YouTube the soundtrack. You'll instantly get the tone of this movie. It is very intense and I think a better director could handle this choice with a bit more sophistication. I love the hip hop soundtrack. I even love the fact that it is blatantly anachronistic. But I hate the fact that, like much of Baz Luhrmann, it is showing off how clever it is. "Look how this works", the movie keeps screaming. There's one scene that goes a bit too far and that I sell the movie out. Dancing in the cars with champagne as Rhapsody in Blue is sampled was just a show of going too far. Part of this comes with the fact that almost every scene is ramped up to ten. I'm going to transition from the music being at a ten and segue into how having everything ramped up to ten kind of ruins the moments that deserve to be ten. The movie kind of peaks in the first half of the film with Gatsby's introduction. Leo raising the glass becomes the most interesting part of the movie, which is really weird because someone SPOILER DESPITE THE FACT THAT YOU SHOULD HAVE READ THIS BOOK BY NOW gets hit by a car on camera and Gatsby gets shot in a pool. But does that really matter if constant stimulus is being thrown at the camera? I have to believe that Luhrmann thinks that teenagers are in need of constant things to look at. He's probably not wrong, but it does wear a little thin when you are in an adult and you can handle boring scenes. The movie needs to be at a 3 sometimes for me to process everything that is happening. I like being able to be calm and collected. But that would make The Great Gatsby like every other adaptation of a literary classic and we can't have that going on. This is why the beginning and the end are so jarring. The movie goes out of its way to make a flashy beginning and end, grabbing the audience from the outset and leaving them emotionally vulnerable. This is where Luhrmann betrays Fitzgerald a bit. He thinks that his opening and closing are better than the novel's. This isn't necessarily a conscious choice, but it is a choice nonetheless. For a guy who clearly loves Gatsby, it is a bit of a shame to have him miss some central themes, especially when it comes to the end.
In terms of casting, I think I really like this cast. In my hypothetical experiment with the different filmmakers approaching the film, I'd love to have different casts. But I really like the choices in this movie. I never felt bad for Tobey Maguire before. There were many Spider-Man jokes, especially his delivery of "Pizza Time". (BTW, his lack of enthusiasm in that delivery is the perfect choice for that scene and you kids don't always get irony.) It's so bizarre that both Joel Edgerton and Jason Clarke are both in this movie. It's a Pullman / Paxton situation for me. But I really like Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. When I was a kid, I always had Robert Redford in that role, despite the fact that I never saw the movie. Redford always seemed like an adult in that situation. DiCaprio, despite being around his forties in this one, gives the movie a sense of the unadulterated (pun intended) hope that Gatsby really holds. It is easier to try to warn Leo's Gatsby of the fool-heartiness of his quest. We want to dissuade him and point out his mistakes. Redford, in my head, always seemed like a character who knew what he was doing, which isn't always Gatsby. Leo is a man with a plan and that plan doesn't always work. I like that in my Gatsby. Carey Mulligan too, (thank goodness Emily Mortimer is not in this movie or I was have had a double Paxton / Pullman to deal with) fills the role of Daisy fabulously. She is lovable when she is supposed to be and despicable when it comes time. That's excellent casting. They also seem to get the tone of the movie, so they go for it at every chance.
The Great Gatsby might be Baz Luhrmann's most successful film. I don't think I'll ever love it, but it isn't a bad watch. There are a lot of cringe worthy moments where I want to scream at the screen, "Take it down a bit". But I also admit that I'd prefer a director who takes chances and has a voice than a movie that is completely devoid of personality. What I really want is a director who makes choices and serves the narrative rather than his own ego.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.