Adapted innumerable times prior to Baz Luhrmann’s most recent go with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic pre-Depression era opus, The Great Gatsby attempts to once again replicate the intricacies of a quintessential piece of American literature – one almost everyone’s familiarized themselves with over time. Whether you’ve read it in passing based on principle or were forced to per your tenth grade English class syllabus, Fitzgerald’s beautifully articulated ruminations on the American Dream and the accompanying downfall of one Jay Gatsby were and will always remain captivating.
Given his brief but discernible track record, the mention of Luhrmann’s name in relation to this film wasn’t a complete surprise; television spots and the like insisting that his singular style would inevitably remain front and center throughout his vision of Gatsby’s superficially enviable grandeur. In beating a dead horse, the man at the helm all-too-recognizably felt compelled to illustrate the tangible aspects of the Jazz Age, more specifically via the then undying party atmosphere that ostensibly peaked at Gatsby’s palatial West Egg estate. People dance, drink, screw and repeat as confetti, public drunkenness, reckless endangerment and obsession with social standing become more important than the cautionary tale raging on behind it all.
Thus brings us to the infamous romance subplot involving naive Nick Carraway’s (Tobey Maguire) cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and the great Jay Gatsby himself. Invariably obsessed with the past, Gatsby’s longing for Daisy for the better part of half a decade suggests – in Luhrmann’s case – that he’s a partly sociopathic loner, moreover one that secretly (and unhealthily) acts on behalf of their hopeful future together and nothing else. It’s this part of Fitzgerald’s narrative that powers the proceedings following brief bits of flimsy introductory character building, all other substance falling by the wayside in a literal instant.
While sometimes rigid composition and execution mar Luhrmann’s typically admirable aesthetic flourishes, The Great Gatsby‘s surface-level appeal tends to spurn the 1920s-era values at its source material’s core as it devolves into a sumptuous straightforward tale of misplaced affections and ill-fated lovers. With performances that vary wildly in terms of quality and memorability, newcomer Debicki at least establishes a name for herself as DiCaprio predictably shines through and through as the titular lovelorn anti-playboy, however nothing can outshine the film’s questionable intentions. Was this the path Luhrmann meant to take all along? It’s hard to tell, but The Great Gatsby possesses enough to at least frequently engage despite various if foreseeable narrative deficiencies.