The Roaring Twenties are in full swing in this latest adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel. Mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) throws extravagant parties in the hope that his lost love Daisy (Carey Mulligan) will come back and help him repeat the past.
The movie is narrated by Gatsby’s neighbor and friend Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as he recalls the story to his doctor; apparently story-telling is very therapeutic. This framing device may have worked for Moulin Rouge! but Carraway is a boring character played by an actor with no personality and these additional scenes only add to the bloated 142 minutes running time. When we do get round to meeting Gatsby, he makes such an entrance and continues to steal each scene so that you could very well forget the first 30 minutes.
DiCaprio gives an impressive performance conveying the depths of Gatsby from the outwardly nouveau riche playboy to the tragically devoted romantic within. In his first meeting with Daisy, audience’s hearts collectively melt at the sight of him nervous and rain soaked. Though the novel is famous as a critique of America, here the love story takes centre stage creating a romance as good as any great costume drama. Mulligan’s youth gives Daisy a girlish charm and partly excuses the character’s capriciousness. Seriously, Daisy is more fickle than The Australian Labour Party when it comes to choosing between her philandering husband and a rich Leonardo DiCaprio.
The movie is surprisingly faithful to the book; even striking images such as the white curtains blowing when we first meet Daisy are taken from Fitzgerald. The visually stylised film is at its element during the decadent party scenes but even the speakeasy and Times Square are extravagant and highly detailed. While bold visuals may work in some scenes, others could use more subtlety. Cars don’t just speed: they drag race, swerving through traffic and cutting off other motorist, as if the world needed a vintage version of The Fast and the Furious. Every driving scene is a whirl of scenery, a roar of engines and angry horns and a churn of audience stomachs. These characters are not so much careless drivers as suicidal maniacs. Even Gatsby isn’t spared from Baz’s unsubtle direction, saying his unique term of endearment “Old Sport” a whopping 51 times till it is nothing more than an annoying catch phrase.
The hip hop soundtrack was a necessary evil for the sake of commercial audiences and album sales. Though it manages not to clash with the Twenties setting, it doesn’t add anything to it either. The ladies costumes aren’t the iconic fashion inspiring outfits that pre-release buzz promised but would you ever take style tips from a movie that dresses its leading man in a pink suit? Even though the soundtrack and costumes didn’t live up to the promotional hype, the movie definitely succeeded in its promise of a box office smash. This doesn’t speak so much to the quality of the film than to the amount of people who love the novel. Or want to see a film version as an alternate to actually reading the 120 pages or so novel. Baz hasn’t silenced the critics with a masterpiece, but it’s no Australia either.