The Miserables Review: The Great Gatsby (2013)

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Fallon: Continuing our summer blockbuster reviews, next up- The Great Gatsby.  It’s 11th grade all over again and one of us didn’t do our homework (*cough* Hillari *cough*). So, this post will feature opinions from Andrew, Ashley, and moi. Enjoy!

*******This review may contain spoilers.*******

Andrew: The Great Gatsby has a story to tell; Baz Luhrmann apparently just has no interest in telling it. He places the story of Nick Carraway’s mysterious affluent neighbor in a house and asks you to view it from outside the window. The window may be stunning and nice to look at, but the story itself is too far away for you to even grasp. The first half of the film is a visually stunning fever dream. It’s entertaining and Luhrmann truly embraces his excess at all cost approach. Eventually though, he has to actually direct the characters of this story and fails on arrival.

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The performances by all the principal actors are fine, particularly DiCaprio who gives his Gatsby an intriguing undercurrent of paranoia, but Baz apparently has no interest in the characters themselves. They come across without much by the way of real human emotion (by God DiCaprio tries). Luhrmann doesn’t have a human touch. He dresses these people up and places them in gaudy environments and lets them perform their dialogue, but there’s nothing there for the audience to latch onto. In the film’s supposed climax, Gatsby and Daisy’s love affair is finally brought to the forefront and it’s as if Baz just sat there and said ‘have at it’. It’s a mess. The actors don’t know exactly what to do or how to portray this supposed big revelation because they themselves don’t know what emotions these characters are feeling. They’ve been giving nothing up to that point to push them in the right direction.

Now, the one success of the film is that for once a Hollywood film uses 3D properly. 3D is a terrible gimmick and I for one can’t wait for it to just fade away, but at least in this case Luhrmann fully embraces the technology and it actually adds to the fantastic cinematography. It wasn’t just slapped on; it served a purpose. Unfortunately, how the film looks appears to be Luhrmann’s lone concern. One day, hopefully he’ll realize that he needs to let the audience in and share the experiences of his characters on an intimate level. All he has to do is open the damn window, and let us in.

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Ashley: I feel that I should begin my review by saying that I am NOT a critic. I am simply a film enthusiast. I don’t feel that I have the credentials to say if a movie was “good” or “bad”.  All I can tell you is if my life has changed and I’m a better person after seeing a picture. Below I have my pros and cons of The Great Gatsby.

CONS:

The movie was very long and could have been condensed quite a bit.

I got lost in the timeline. Tobey McGuire’s character, Nick, would say “and that was the night Gatsby told me the truth,” very dramatic like. Then, a few scenes later he’d say, “that was the day he told me the real truth” or “that was the night he told me his future plans with Daisy.” I basically chalked it up to Gatsby never shut up!

Although the visuals were stunning, they seemed a tad over the top at times.

I should start this rant by saying Carey Mulligan is a fantastic actress. I believed her performance as Daisy. It’s obvious that Tom was the antagonist in this film but one could argue that the true downfall of Gatsby was actually Daisy (and his love for her). Her character quickly became unlikable to me early in the movie. Gatsby wanted to “go back to the past.” I don’t blame him one bit! That was the only time I felt Daisy truly loved him. When she met him later on, I think she cared for him but his money sure didn’t hurt the situation either. I mean, I’m not saying she’s a gold digger but she wasn’t messing with any of those coal diggers.

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PROS:

Okay, I’m going to gush here. Seeing Leo as Jay Gatsby reminded me of how I felt at 12 years old watching Titanic for the first time; it was love at first sight. His performance was as per usual, perfection. No doubt he’ll get snubbed by the Oscars for this one too.

The character of Gatsby is the perfect example for writers when creating a story. Jay Gatsby has layers, he’s obsessed with something. That obsession is his driving force and ultimately his demise. He’s larger than life, yet relatable. His longing made me hurt alongside him.

Tobey McGuire as Nick Caraway was great casting. His character was bright eyed and innocent. Only a face like Peter Parker’s could pull off some of those morally conflicted expressions.

The costumes were gorgeous. All of the white linen and pastel colored seersucker suits made me ready for a summer at the beach. Nick Caraway’s cottage was absolutely charming. I actually preferred it to Gatsby’s castle. All of the hydrangeas peeking through the background were a great addition to give the audience that whimsical feeling of their world. I swooned over Daisy’s wedding ring. How could I forget the pearls? Oh, the strings and strings of pearls!

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So was my life changed after seeing The Great Gatsby…maybe? I felt that the important theme to this movie was that not only will money not buy happiness, but it could bring misery.

Fallon: What can I say about this movie? As I sat there in the theater, it felt as though the novel was being read to me by Tobey Maguire, but instead of my own imagination providing me with the visual, I had Baz Luhrmann’s colorful spectacle dancing in front of my eyes. I’m not saying The Great Gatsby was bad, but it’s not quite the movie going experience I think most people will expect.

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I did not feel myself immersed in the world of this film (similar to what Andrew was saying). The framing device, and therefore flashbacks, and overuse of narration kept me from that (reminding me over and over again- Hey! We’re telling you a story!! “…then I said… then he said…” shut up!). To be fair to Luhrmann the novel does lend itself to this problem, and perhaps shouldn’t have been adapted in the first place. The story is told by Nick Carraway as he recounts (and writes about) the summer he spent in West Egg.  The action can also be a bit passive too. Nick watches Gatsby watching him from a window. Gatsby stares at Daisy’s house and the green light across the bay. The list goes on. Everyone’s watching everyone else, and we’re watching them in removed observation (just like the spectacled eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg watches over the valley of ashes). Despite these hurdles, we could have felt a bit closer to the story and characters had they eliminated the older Nick Carraway scenes and used narration more sparingly.

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I love dubstep as much as the next person, okay, maybe even more than the next person, but to watch a period film (circa 1922) and hear Flux Pavillion’s “I Can’t Stop” *really* took me out of the story, as did other songs (major soundtrack distraction!). Music is a great element used in film, one that I particularly pay attention to, and while it may have seemed like a good idea at the time (as most things do) using modern music in a period film just doesn’t work, at least not for me.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t use modern artists. On the contrary, I think they were shrewd in building up hype about the film by flaunting big vocal hitters (in their respective genres) like Jay-Z, Sia, The xx, Nero, Florence + The Machine, etc. However, I would’ve liked to see them stick a bit closer to the time period in style. You can clearly hear 1920’s influences: lyrics like, “don’t mean a thing if I ain’t your girl,” the use of horns, piano, etc. But I think someone like Caro Emerald would have been better suited to the task (for example “That Man“). So, while it’s a great compilation of songs and artists, unfortunately it ultimately distracted me from experiencing the story.

Overall, I think the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts (DiCaprio, Luhrmann, the soundtrack, etc.). An entertaining, visually stunning ride, but a film with a well executed story? I’ll leave it up to my film-critic betters to decide.

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What did you think old sport? Next time we review Star Trek Into Darkness!

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