The thing is, I’m not so sure. I love Fitzgerald’s novel, as in, really love it and I was so excited about this film. It’s funny because it’s exactly what I expected it to be and yet still somehow I came out of the cinema feeling oddly disappointed. I am aware this makes no sense.
Is it amazing? No.
Is it terrible? Also, no.
It falls somewhere in between and I can’t quite put my finger on why that should be. I think maybe it’s because it’s been such a long time coming and there’s been so much build-up that I allowed myself to have ridiculously high expectations. Perhaps I just set myself up for a fall.
It stays faithful to the novel, which I liked – and I loved how they kept Nick’s narration, (although the flash forward from the action to Nick’s random therapy sessions felt a little bit jarring sometimes, and the whole typing out of the story, erm hello Moulin Rouge reference.) There’s plenty of Fitzgerald’s original content and dialogue in there too, which I also liked so what did I not like?
Baz Luhrmann obviously has a particular vision and a particular style of directing which has served him well in the past. Take a look at Strictly Ballroom, Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge: he is not aiming for subtle. I adore Moulin Rouge. It’s a spectacle, the story is a spectacular spectacular and it makes perfect sense for the film to be one too. It’s so flamboyant and so over the top and so unique that it’s wonderful. I wonder if Luhrmann has tried to recreate that here when in actuality Gatsby doesn’t need that; sometimes, like here, less is more. It felt like too much sometimes. It felt like Luhrmann was actually trying to recreate what he’d done with Moulin Rouge and that frustrated me because The Great Gatsby could have been great on it’s own merits if given half the chance. Also, the modern hip hoppy soundtrack, which whilst fabulous in it’s own right, didn’t work for me. I felt like the film tried too hard and in doing so took away from the actual story it was trying to tell. I felt like I was being bombarded with these bright over the top visuals and it made my head spin. That said, parts of it were glorious: I loved loved loved the costumes, practically squealed at them and at times the portrayal of New York in the 1920’s made me very happy: you could really feel the vibe, especially in the party scenes.
I was unsure about Nick: film Nick is much more innocent than book Nick, he wanders around these mental scenes of excess looking awed and overwhelmed and almost childlike whereas he isn’t like that for me in the book. Also, the party Tom takes him too, when he meets Myrtle, that was all wrong – Nick’s a little sneery at that party; he’s a little judgemental of Mrytle and her sister. He looks down his nose at it all, he doesn’t think ‘oooh wow a party. I’ve never been to one of those before GIVE ME ALL THE ALCOHOL AND ALL THE WOMEN.’ He leaves with a man. I think Nick is one of my main issues with the film actually. I don’t know if that’s down to Tobey Maguire or the direction he received, but it annoyed me nonetheless. Nick is more worldly wise than the film shows him to be, he’s tougher, he’s not a shrinking wallflower and it’s Gatsby he views through rose-tinted glasses and not the whole world. He isn’t that naïve. The way Nick is portrayed has a knock on effect when it comes to the rest of the film and that is an issue.
Talking of Nick and Gatsby, I always thought Nick was gay, or bisexual: he’s clearly in love with Gatsby (The first time I read the book I remember thinking, in my best Chandler Bing thought-voice, ‘Jeez Nick, could you be any more in love with him?’ ) and there’s the implied night he spent with the guy when he goes to the party with Tom and Myrtle. They meet at the party and later leave together and whilst it’s never explicitly stated that anything happens, there is a lapse of time, and the next time we see Nick and this chap Nick is standing beside the bed and the other man is in it, wearing only his underwear *shrug*
I don’t know if it’s just me, or if it’s a common interpretation, because I’ve never spoken to anybody about it at length but to me, Nick’s sexuality and his feelings towards Gatsby always seemed perfectly obvious. The bedroom scene isn’t in the film, interestingly enough and Nick is shown with a woman so maybe it is just me, but a lot of what Nick says throughout the book about Gatsby has been kept in, and whether you view it as platonic or not, that whole relationship interests me as much in the film as it does in the book. Nick is the ultimate unreliable narrator because his feelings for Gatsby make it hard for him to see the other man as anything but great. He can’t see his flaws and if he can he doesn’t care, he wants to see the world the way Gatsby sees it, he wants to be a part of that blind optimism and hopeless romanticism, feels it probably himself, about Gatsby and as the reader, (or the viewer) your own opinion of Gatsby is shaped by that fact. It’s less obvious in the film, or rather, whilst he is still massively unreliable you feel like Nick’s opinions are based more on his general naivety than his feelings about Jay specifically. Maybe that's why you feel a little less sympathetic towards Gatsby? It’s easier to see Gatsby’s flaws because you’re not as naïve as Nick seems to be. Does that even make sense? It does in my head!
That said, Leo was great as Gatsby. I happen to think Leonardo DiCaprio is a very good actor, and I really think he did well here. Some of his scenes were golden – waiting to meet Daisy for the first time, although the set up was verging on ridiculousness, Leo really expressed Gatsby’s vulnerability. The scene where Gatsby walks into the room and sees Daisy for the first time was lovely in it’s simplicity and they kept the ‘I’m certainly glad to see you again’ exchange so hurrah for that. The following scenes with Gatsby and Daisy together were achingly touching and the final showdown between Gatsby and Tom was so tense. Leo played Gatsby’s slowly crumbling façade perfectly so that when he finally loses it you can totally understand Daisy’s – and to a lesser degree Nick and Jordan’s – horror.
It’s not the best film, it’s not the best adaptation and yes, I was disappointed but still, I’m glad I’ve seen it.