Things I Love Movies: The Great Gatsby

When I was about thirteen years old, my mother gave me F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night to read, among the heaps of books she constantly supplied me with. I got more or less halfway through it before my thoughts got occupied with more important things: the boy in my class, what dress to wear or my future career as a Hollywood star. Seventeen years later, I can't help but blame my mother's precociousness: you can't possibly place such an artwork in the hands of a child and expect her to understand it. I guess what my mother wanted was to set me apart from the bubblegum-chewing, Spice Girls-adoring, pink jeans-wearing army of identical teenage girls that crowded the streets of Stockholm where I grew up. In some ways she succeeded, but it was still early days.

I revisited Fitzgerald about a week before yesterday, when I finally saw my favourite director Baz Luhrmann's version of The Great Gatsby. I have always been partial to seeing the movie before reading the book (I recognize this is somewhat of an unpopular opinion, but I find that knowing what the characters look and act like saves me the trouble of blindly trying to imagine them in my head, then find that the film director had a totally different image and be disappointed) , but this time I wanted to explore Fitzgerald's writing before handing my attention over to Baz. So when I headed over to the Apollo cinema in Piccadilly Circus yesterday, I had give or take thirty pages left on the book (finished at about 2 a.m tonight). So I was aware of the story, but didn't know the ending - perfect.

I'm amazed as to why Fitzgerald isn't required reading in schools - at least at mine it wasn't. We spent years reading insignificant Swedish and - oh, the horror of humanity - Icelandic authors that slipped my mind just as easily as last week's laundry list. Stories like The Great Gatsby paint such an enchanting illusion of a defining decade, not to mention Fitzgerald's genius way with words - he uses them like a painter uses his brushes, and once you're inside the book, it feels like, in Nick Carraway's words, you're within and without at the same time. 

But this is not a post about the book. If you haven't read it - DO IT NOW.

If you haven't seen the movie - SEE IT NOW.

Yes, I loved this movie and the reviews it has gotten is another piece of proof (as if we needed one) that film critics are too narrow-minded. Anyone would understand that it's impossible to make a 100% faithful rendition of something and such an expectation can impossibly be realistic. This film should be taken for what it is: a story re-told. I fail to understand the critique of "too many parties, too superficial, too much naked flesh and lavish parties" - first of all, I expected many more party scenes than this!  Secondly, in the book Gatsby's parties set the theme for the development of the story and I really can't see how Baz could have conveyed the Roaring Twenties mood without them. And if you find it all "too much", well, don't see a Baz Luhrmann film. His masterpiece Moulin Rouge was all can-can and red-lipped decadence - and let's not forget the extravagant party where a younger Leo met his one true on-screen match, Claire Danes (that's right Kate), in Romeo+Juliet. I'm just saying that you should know what you're paying for by now, with Baz. In my opinion the party scenes were particularly mesmerizing and I don't think that any other director could have portrayed the atmosphere as uniquely as Baz. His trademark dazzling-glitter-explosion style worked beautifully with the 20s setting and the luxe surroundings of the story.

I found the cast superb. Obviously Leonardo DiCaprio is magnificent, as he is in every role - and this comes from someone who passionately hates Titanic -  and here, his presence and polished energy make an Oscar-worthy Jay Gatsby. Joel Edgerton is a perfect Tom Buchanan - he manages to give his character that extra depth. The same can be said for Elizabeth Debicki (whom I admit to never having heard of before) who interprets Jordan Baker with a classic Twenties sparkle. Carey Mulligan is gorgeous and has a subtle expression that I liked - but that I would have loved to see more of. I felt she held back sometimes, especially in love scenes where she tended to disappear behind Leo's intensity and the extraordinary costumes. But who really surprised me here was Tobey Maguire. He has an expressive strength that's truly wasted on things like Spider-Man. His portrayal of Nick Carraway was very elegant and I stand by this no matter how many film critics have slated him as "dull". After all, those are the same people that give Tarantino films top marks. 

The true star of the film is the costume designer, Catherine Martin. If she doesn't win an Oscar, I will forever believe that the Academy Awards are fixed (something I started believing when both Avatar and Les Misérables lost out) This film has some of the best costume work I've ever seen, especially for Daisy Buchanan. It's not cliché Twenties. It's not vulgar or predictable. It catches your eye, but plays into the story exquisitely. 

This film is an intense love story. That's what's at the heart of it and that's the tale that Baz Luhrmann tells masterfully. The atmosphere is dazzling and frivolous and luxurious, the acting is marvellous and the soundtrack provides a unique clash of eras. I adore Lana Del Rey's Young and Beautiful, which is played several times throughout the film. Executive producer Jay-Z has sprinkled the movie with his own tracks, among them a few from a couple of years ago. His wife Beyoncé doesn't feature as much as I expected, but I must say that even if I am appalled by her sexy-breathy Playboy version of Amy Winehouse's Back to Black, it does fit well in with the scene where it's played. The soundtrack completes the perfection of this film.

This film is amazing. Don't listen to the critics. See it now!

If you've seen it, what did you think?

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  1. Io ne sono rimasta estasiata, l'ho amato!
    Non vedo l'ora che qualcuno organizzi una festa a tema!

  2. Your comment about the film being a story re-told is such truth. A film shouldn't be a perfect visual-replica of a book, because it's very nature is that it's expressed through a different medium and therefore is inevitably going to be an adaption instead of a copy. And that is definitely one of the things that makes Luhrmann's 'Gatsby' so wonderful- it's a new, decadent, specifically Baz-like way of telling the story. Divine!
    x eva


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