Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” is a study in caricature. Rather than heeding the warning that the source material makes on the nature of the extravagant lifestyle, it fully embraces the exaggeration and paints with more vibrant pastels than a street of neon lights (which precisely what this film is made out of).
“The Great Gatsby” comes with all the bells and whistles one would expect to find from a novel-to-film adaptation along with the welcome add-on of a story-within-the-story plot of Nick Carraway narrating the tale at an asylum where he is recovering from “morbid alcoholism” and other such post-party trauma one would expect from a roaring ’20s lifestyle. Though the psuedo-bookend plot device works well for the most part, the transitions to and from past and present seem forced and rarely come at an appropriate time – often it seems as though they are tossed in so the audience doesn’t forget.
Baz Luhrmann directed a film here that produces more glittering pomp and circumstance than one would think possible. While never a filmmaker known for his use of subtlety, Luhrmann takes it to a whole new level of cinematic extravagance. The amount of computer generated shots of cityscapes, fast-zoom character profiles, and blue & green screens so visible they are practically the same color as the colors being generated is staggering.
Character portrayals continue in the same vein – it is as though we are watching the actors play exaggerations of themselves through characters that are themselves exaggerations. It often feels like we are watching marionettes upon strings, marionettes that look like the actors that are being pulled by the same actors.
In truth, the gloss and glam make this telling of the life and times of Mr. Gatsby no more believable than the story itself, no more realistic than the man himself. We are not watching a movie by Baz Luhrmann; we are watching a movie that is an exaggerated caricature of him. We are not necessarily watching “The Great Gatsby” so much as we are seeing a poorly painted pastiche parody of a novel that attempts to criticize that said charade.