Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

27 May 2013

The Spock-a-wing Diamond Part II

Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby film is certainly something to see. I would even say it is worth seeing. If only for Catherine Martin's costume designs.

I wanted to like the film in its entirety, to be honest. There was a moment early on after the second or third outrageous party sequence where I thought okay, this will be like a wild party version of this story with opulence and ridiculousness and that will be really fun. But I couldn't keep it up. This movie got boring really quickly.

The parties were my favorite part of the movie. Every single party sequence is delightful. They all feel inventive and fresh and totally ludicrous. Luhrmann throws a great party. At one point, people are in a swimming pool with inflatable zebras. There is a sequence where someone is dumping metallic confetti on someone else out of an oversized champagne bottle. It is all very fun.

But Gatsby is not trying to be fun. Gatsby is trying to be serious. Or at least something approximating serious. And this is where Luhrmann runs into trouble, because, see, he doesn't actually know how to be serious. Or honest. Maybe he doesn't know how to be honest. His characters are all surface. Not one of them ever actually feels human. And this isn't because the actors aren't trying to play the roles. I think they're doing fine jobs (except for Tobey Maguire, whose career I will never understand). Luhrmann introduces his characters in artificial, silly ways – the shot that introduces Gatsby is a slow-motion medium-shot of Leonardo DiCaprio raising a champagne glass while fireworks go off in the background. I was surprised that when he smiled a small glint of light didn't hit his teeth with a ting. It's a hilarious moment, and the audience with whom I saw the film all laughed.


The film simply can't be taken seriously. None of the characters has a bit of nuance. None of the settings ever feels anything other than computer generated. None of the morality makes any sense.

Side note on morality: Gatsby is somehow "better" than the Buchanans because he wasn't born rich, but instead worked to scheme his money by cheating the government or cheating working people or whomever he cheated? That is absurd.
I am in love with Gatsby's sweater. And that's it.

Still, Gatsby wears nice suits. 
All of them do.  

I might say that Baz Luhrmann is himself a little bit like Tom and Daisy Buchanan. When someone's throwing a party, Luhrmann is enjoying himself. He feels right at home. He knows where to put the camera; he knows how to fill the screen; he knows which music will fit perfectly with what's going on. As soon as things get even slightly more serious, however, Luhrmann becomes that awkward person who has stayed at the party too long, begging the host – who long ago asked his guests to leave – to tell him a story that will only bring down the mood.