Throughout Baz Luhrmann’s film of “The Great Gatsby,” I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone on screen was about to break into song. This is more than just a holdover from Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge!” although the memory of that crazed musical has something to do with it.
The Luhrmann “Great Gatsby” exists in its own bizarre, digitized, almost disembodied world — everything that happens in the movie, from a grand mansion to a pink pinstriped suit, is a figure of style. It looks like a music video ready to burst into song.
Maybe a few Leonardo DiCaprio tunes would’ve helped. “The Great Gatsby” is a disorienting and tone-deaf stab at one of the great American novels, filtered through Luhrmann’s toy kaleidoscope and played at up-tempo speed.
It is faithful to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, although a weirdly Gothic opening in a psychiatric hospital might make you wonder whether we’re still on DiCaprio’s Shutter Island. Turns out this is where Nick Carraway (played by Tobey Maguire) has come to rest after getting burned out on the Roaring ’20s.
He begins to tell his story, which conveniently unfolds in the voice of Fitzgerald’s novel: how he came to stay in a small house on the Long Island shore next to the marvelous mansion of Jay Gatsby (that’s DiCaprio), a mystery millionaire.
Gatsby secretly pines for a former love, Daisy (Carey Mulligan); she lives in the mansion across the bay with her boorish but loaded husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), a place you can’t miss for the green light flashing at the end of its dock, one of the most famous yearning images in American literature.
Luhrmann captures that image — in fact, he won’t let you forget about it, which is pretty much the overkill method of the movie.
When Gatsby gives a party, look for the fireworks and “Rhapsody in Blue” (two years before its composition, but never mind) to crest just at the moment we finally meet the great man himself.
Much of the rest of the soundtrack is awash in modern-sounding tunes with hip-hop inflections, which might be a ridiculous choice but which at least adds interest to the proceedings.
The movie’s so full of candy colors and visual dazzle that it barely registers as a sad love story, or a contemplation of the past. (I saw it in the 3-D version, which only adds to the disconnection.) Luhrmann seems to admire the book, and slows the film down toward the end to draw out the complications contained in it, but he’s too antsy to let anything, or anybody, breathe.
Hard to argue with the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio (he conveys more sense of the fierce social climber than Robert Redford did in the 1974 version), and Tobey Maguire has the observer role nailed. Also intriguing is newcomer Elizabeth Debicki as the sporty Jordan Baker.
Carey Mulligan, a fine actress, is almost completely lost in the shuffle as Daisy — but who wouldn’t be, with this much shuffling going on?
A book as delicate as “The Great Gatsby” needs a fine touch to keeps its art in balance. With Lurhmann, the touch is broad, and the book’s melancholy tone keeps getting shoved aside in search of the next fabulous party to stage.
“The Great Gatsby” (two and a half stars)
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel is digitized (it’s in 3-D) and vulgarized by “Moulin Rouge!” director Baz Luhrmann, whose admiration for the book seems sincere but whose execution of the film is overblown. Hard to argue with the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Tobey Maguire as the observer Nick Carraway, but the gaudy style emphasizes the parties and misses the melancholy tone of the novel.
Rated: PG-13 for violence.
Showing: Alderwood 7, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Guild 45th, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.