The Great Gatsby 3D (2013) – Baz Luhrmann (Dir.), Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Debicki
The American dream. Such an ephemeral, changing, yet eternally constant concept. We all have our own goals, loves, ambitions and needs. We all reach for the distant green light of emotional and financial success so that we might taste, if only momentarily, that sweet nectar of fleeting happiness and that, maybe, at the end of our lives we flitter from consciousness with a smile on our lips. The American Dream is fragile, complex and futile. It has driven people mad since the founding of this nation 250 years ago. It is the subject of countless existential novels, all drenched in longing and stewing with disillusionment.
So who more appropriate to make it into a 3D movie than an insane Australian famous for giving my epilepsy a fucking heart attack?
Yes, Baz Luhrmann, the man, nay, the god responsible for obliterating both my cones and rods via ocular over-stimulation during the course of the shockingly non-mathematical Romeo + Juliet, the strictly-chromatologically insane Strictly Ballroom, and the lives-its-punctuation Moulin Rouge!, has decided to take on perhaps the most celebrated of the purported ‘great American novels’…IN THREE DIMENSIONS! That’s right, see the ennui come right at you! You can practically taste the crushing defeat of hopefulness! So, the question is, does the American Dream come alive? Does Luhrmann take us to the seventh level of glittery insanity? Does he capture the essence of the book and elevate it to a new and dizzying level of clarity?
Nope, nope and fucking no way in hell.
My lovely girlfriend and I, knowing that one of our favorite novels of all time was about to be more ravaged than my pride on prom night, smuggled in an entire jug of prosecco in a water bottle. As we donned our 3D glasses, the lights dimmed, and the gorgeously over-wrought art deco gate sprinted towards our unprotected eye testicles, we took a dive into the depths of mild jovial inebriation. What occurred was bizarrely apt for our current state. The Great Gatsby 3D is two movies, in essence. The first movie is a Dionysian epic detailing the absurd excess of the roaring twenties, fully equipped with Jay-Z soundtrack, slow motion, garish colors and sparkle-shooting Moet bottles. Amelia and I reveled like the poor suckers on screen, all about to feel the hit of the greatest stock market crash in all of US history. We drank and giggled and squirmed and drank some more, completely inured to the nonsensical narration torn from the pages of Fitzgerald’s great book. It was a party and we were the guests of honor. More pizzazz shot at my face than at a Jazz-hands convention. It reached an aptly-termed climax when Gatsby is finally revealed, lost in his party amongst the glitterati, to the building sound of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and the screen, I shit you not, literally ejaculates fireworks into your face. This shot, in essence, was the reason why Baz Luhrmann exists. From now on, I decree, whenever Leo Dicaprio is in a movie, his entrance better be a visual money shot, a cinematic cum-in-the-eye, if you will, or I want my goddamn money back.
But then…the second half began. Gatsby and Daisy begin their affair and the parties end. As the world of West Egg sobers up, so too did Amelia and I. I wasn’t sure if it was my diminishing blood-alcohol content, but the movie ground to an absolute halt. What happened? Where was the Baz Luhrmann I loved to despise? The man too afraid to hold a shot longer than a millisecond in fear of his actors exploding or something. The man more ADHD than a two year-old injected with pure sucrose and adrenaline. Suddenly, we have lingering shots, people talking, lack of slow motion, even, and I am appalled that I might even write this, scenes that had NO CGI AT ALL. It wasn’t until the actual climax of the movie that I realized I had been watching a bunch of tepid thespians talk in a single room…in 3D. That’s like doing A Room With a View: The IMAX Experience. Sure…you caaaaaan make that. But I don’t think when Daisy starts lamenting the choice between husband and lover we need to fear her tears slapping us in the face.
In the end, almost everything about this film is wrong. Not necessarily bad…but incorrect. Firstly, there is the increasingly puffy and Jack-Nicholson-esque Leo playing essentially his detestable villain from Django:Unchained, Calvin Candy, simply with feigned hopefulness and a lack of extreme-racism. After that, we have the utterly vapid Carey Mulligan who encourages about as much chemistry with the rest of the cast as a cardboard cut-out of a bored rock. Finally, the coup de grace, is the horribly miscast and painfully drab Mr. Maguire. I’ve never been fond of the man who made Peter Parker seem like a talking horse with mental difficulties. Here, he wanders from scene to scene like a lobotomy patient, seemingly amazed by the concept of oxygen. The boy is also tasked with delivering some of the finest prose known to the English language. He fails miserably, though it is difficult to truly embody the idea of emotional ‘without and within’-ness while glitter-titties (or glitties) fly past his head in 3-dimensional slo mo. Only the striking Elizabeth Debicki and her strangely proportioned super-model body comes off as actually playing a character.
The greatest failing here, however, is not a single performance or even the miserable ensemble as a whole, but rather it’s Mr. Luhrmann’s. Perhaps what is most unfortunate is that Baz seems to be working his way from the land of visual excess and towards that of pathos. Over and over, he pummels both the imagery of the green light and the eyes of oculist into our skulls. Yes, we fucking get that the green light is a metaphor. You don’t need to tell us that it’s a metaphor. Nick Caraway moves from passive observant outsider to that asshole reading the IMDB trivia page out loud while you’re watching the movie (yes, I am aware that I am usually that asshole). Not to mention that the framing device of having him locked in the nut house and working through his issues with a psychiatrist doesn’t say much for Luhrmann’s appreciation of Fitzgerald’s quality of thought.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate Luhrmann’s attempt at higher art, but forcing him in that direction is like asking a piglet to play Gershwin on a piano. At first, it’s cute to watch, hoofing all over the black keys. Then it just drones on into pointless cacophony. Pigs wallow in mess. That’s what Baz does best. He more adept at crafting hot messes than Lindsay Lohan at an all-you-can-drink buffet. Ultimately, The Great Gatsby falls between two extremes. It neither realizes the subtly of the novel (seeing as its imagery is more hamfisted than Hammy the Baconator) nor does it blow our eyeballs out of our fucking brains. I give it credit for the attempt, though I found myself yawning as sobriety reared its ugly head in the final act. It commits perhaps the greatest sin that Baz could ever perpetrate…it becomes boring. Like…check your watch every few minutes, god-when-is-my-next-gas-bill-due brain-numbing blahness. And so Luhrmann beats on, boat against the current, borne ceaselessly back into the past.
And, of course, by ‘past’ I mean a forest of penile, climaxing, mylar champagne bottles. Le sigh.