Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby
begins, appropriately enough, with decoration—a gold-filigreed frame that accordions outward in 3-D before suddenly cutting to a swimmy shot of some water, under a voice-over that dopily bastardizes the book’s opening lines. Then, yet another framing device. Turns out Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), the always-just-outside-the-action narrator of Gatsby
, is telling the entire story of the movie to his psychologist. Well, it’s always good to let the crowd know what they’re in for: a little bit of pretty, a little bit of confusion, a whole lot of stupid. Luhrmann’s 1920s New York is a phantasmagoric spectacle, and the script lobotomizes the novel’s dialogue into amazing subcamp clunkers. But while Luhrmann’s Gatsby
is a far cry from the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, it is in its own way quite affecting: Badly married silver-spooner Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and besmirched tycoon Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) have been cast here not as cautionary tales, but as star-crossed lovers. DiCaprio plays the kid from Titanic grown up into a clueless Howard Hughes. Daisy’s a nice girl, too, though almost too sympathetic in Mulligan’s capable hands for her callow decisions to make sense. The movie’s a high-drama, high-saturation emotional spectacle. And though it’s often effective in roping the viewer in, it has all the subtlety of a young drunk who’s just been left by his girlfriend. The contemporary soundtrack, despite a lot of knee-jerk criticism, isn’t overly distracting. The novel, for all the Jazz Age frenzy it depicts, plays a much softer music—and it is this music one recalls when thinking back on the book, the sadness and the subtle sense of doom contained in every misbegotten line uttered by its characters. Funny that in such a musical film, this music is the one thing Luhrmann couldn’t hear.