When it comes to watching film adaptations, I feel like it’s a bit different to be a viewer going because you like watching movies versus a viewer going because you’ve read the book. Especially if it’s a good book. Even more especially if it is one of your favourite books. The Great Gatsby falls into this category for me. While it may not be my favourite of Fitzgerald’s works (my favourite is Tender is the Night if you’re interested), it’s still a Fitzgerald.
I went in fairly uncertain. Did I even want to put myself through it? What if it was terrible? The reviews have been pretty all over the place? Will it be any good?
As it happened, I left just as uncertain. Warning, spoiler alert – stop reading now if you want to see it naively.
So what did I like? Baz Luhrmann has created a movie that is very true to the story. For this The Great Gatsby gets good marks. Carey Mulligan happens to be an actress who wins me every time and cast as Daisy she was perfect. In fact the casting full stop was perfect. I couldn’t have complained about the choices there.
Set in the 1920’s, The Great Gatsby is very much a story of the Jazz Era. It’s that roaring, bustling boom time where everything is fabulous and everything is a party. The beauty of Gatsby has always been it’s frivolity and this is totally captured in the film. Yes, it’s totally over the top but visually it’s beautiful. Glittering, shimmering. You want to be there, or you want to actively not be there. It’s the sort of crowd who you either want to be a part of or you love to hate and gossip about. The houses, the costumes. It’s all magnificent.
But then there’s the soundtrack. From the very first trailer I was unsure of Jay-Z’s involvement. It’s a Jazz Era story – Jazz will get a look in right? But no. Frequently throughout the film a song would start and I’d get distracted because it was too Jay-Z. It was too recognisable, too well known, too jarring. Sure, I love Crazy in Love but Emeli Sande’s cover was just wrong. My understanding of it is that they wanted to show the opulence of the ’20s and hip hop does that but it could have been smarter. It’s the Jazz Era for crying out loud – Jazz and Hip Hop can work together. There was one scene in particular which particularly irritated me and that was when Tom and Nick are partying in Tom’s apartment. There’s a trumpet player on the fire escape outside. The opportunity was there. No Church in the Wild didn’t give it a look in.
The saving grace of the soundtrack was Lana Del Ray’s, Young and Beautiful. This song has been in my head ever since and was the only part of the soundtrack that felt totally right. It even got me a bit weepy. Or maybe that was just Daisy being a tosser.
Being directed by Baz Luhrmann this movie was always going to be over the top. For the content of the novel I feel that that’s a bit perfect. The pacing to begin with was sort of weird, but having watched Jack Clayton’s 1974 adaptation that could be purely down to the novel.
My last gripe is therefore purely stylistic – the overlay of text on screen.I felt like that was a bit too obvious – Nick’s narrating a book, let’s throw words in American Typewriter font on the screen! Some of it worked. Some of it didn’t. The end sort of didn’t.
So what do I think of Gatsby? I’m not sure. For me personally there were issues. But then a friend who hasn’t read the book quite liked it. It’s also Luhrmann which admittedly can be an acquired taste.
So would I recommend it? If you’ve read the novel, go with ease. If you dislike Luhrmann’s other work, probably not. Otherwise, go and tell me what you think. Despite the soundtrack it is a sensationally beautiful film visually and if you only count Del Ray’s track then hey, it could be perfect.