Upcoming Flix Spotlight: The Great Gatsby

One of my new year resolutions this year is to read more. Currently I’m still trying to finish up Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, which is quite challenging, but I’m determined to get through the whole thing.

The next one I’ll be tackling on is The Great Gatsby. I don’t know why but ever since I saw Tom Hiddleston as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris, I had been reading more about the author. Then a couple of days ago I saw this trailer of Fitzgerald’s biographical drama Beloved Infidel, based on the memoir of his mistress Sheilah Graham. Toward the end of his life, Fitzgerald was writing for Hollywood studios to be able to afford the cost of an asylum for his wife Zelda, all the while battling against alcoholism. With Gregory Peck as the author and Deborah Kerr as Sheilah, I’m adding this one to my GP collection 🙂

Now, back to The Great Gatsby, which is considered Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. Here are some of the reasons I’m looking forward to this film:

The story

In case you’re not familiar with the basic premise of the novel:

Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner now living on Long Island, finds himself fascinated by the mysterious past and lavish lifestyle of his neighbor, Jay Gatsby. He is drawn into Gatsby’s circle, becoming a witness to obsession and tragedy.

I can see why this novel was so well-received and has that timeless quality about it. This Washington Post reviewer said “… no American novel comes closer than “Gatsby” to surpassing literary artistry, and none tells us more about ourselves… Fitzgerald gives us a meditation on some of this country’s most central ideas, themes, yearnings and preoccupations: the quest for a new life, the preoccupation with class, the hunger for riches…”  Wow, I can’t wait to finally start reading it!

The Cast

Leonardo DiCaprio: Jay Gatsby
Carey Mulligan: Daisy Buchanan
Tobey Maguire: Nick Carraway
Joel Edgerton: Tom Buchanan

Luhrmann has assembled a pretty decent cast here. Before James Cameron made into a mega movie star, Luhrmann already tapped on Leo’s heartthrob potential in his modern Shakespeare adaptation Romeo + Juliet. I think Leo has the looks and perhaps the charm to pull off the aloof and elusive Jay Gatsby. He’s ok as Howard Hughes in The Aviator, but I’d say his performance was serviceable, not great. He’s grown quite a bit as an actor since though, so I’m hopeful he can do this role justice.

Apparently every young actress in Hollywood was vying for the role of Daisy, I mean check out this list of names per IMDb trivia: Amanda Seyfried, Rebecca Hall, Keira Knightley, Blake Lively, Abbie Cornish, Michelle Williams, Natalie Portman, Eva Green, Anne Hathaway, Olivia Wilde, Jessica Alba and Scarlett Johansson were considered to play Daisy Buchanan. Well I’m certainly glad Mulligan got the role, the Brit certainly has the range to portray a young American debutant. As Daisy’s obsession with money and luxury doesn’t exactly make her a likable character, it’s critical to cast an an actress who’s inherently sympathetic as well as beautiful.

Now I think Tobey Maguire is perfectly cast as the quiet, reflective Midwesterner (from Minnesota to be exact, just like the novel’s author) who’s drawn to the fun, lavish lifestyle of the rich New Yorkers. Not sure if they’re going to use Nick as the narrator like in the novel, but I think Tobey’s got the right disposition to portray the inner conflict of this character. In a way he is Gatsby’s antithesis, which I find interesting as both Gatsby and Carraway seem to represent the dual personality of Fitzgerald himself.

Though Tom Buchanan is more of a supporting role, I think Edgerton has the chops to make the character memorable. I was really impressed with him in Warrior, so I’m glad he’s cast in more prominent projects.

The Director

The Great Gatsby has been filmed six times before, with the most famous one to date being the 1974 film version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. I actually haven’t seen ANY adaptation of The Great Gatsby, though I might rent the 1974 version before this film opens.

This seventh motion picture adaptation will be at the helm of Aussie director Baz Luhrmann. I think Luhrmann would do well projects like this, he’s got an artistic eye for a costume drama, and he’s proven that he could craft an engaging romance (i.e. Romeo + JulietMoulin Rouge!). This is Luhrmann’s first big-budget production since the disappointment of the $130-million Australia. The Hugh Jackman/Nicole Kidman starrer was not a critical nor financial success, earning only a third of of the production cost. Luhrmann aimed for something akin to Gone With the Wind but it was more like the overblown Duel in the Sun. Let’s hope he’s learned some things from that experience to put to good use on this project.

The Setting

There is something so enchanting about the 1920s. No wonder Gil in Midnight in Paris is so obsessed with that era. The cars, the clothes, the jazz music… I guess they don’t call it the Roaring Twenties for nothing. A period of sustained economic prosperity in the wake of WWI and pre-Great Depression sure makes for intriguing tales of lavish proportion.

Moulin Rouge! won two Oscars for Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction, and rightly so. The turn-of-the-century set pieces and clothing in that movie are gorgeous to behold. I have faith that Luhrmann would bring the same kind of artistry and meticulous craftsmanship to this film. As pictures from the set have surfaced, the cast look beautiful in their 1920s costumes.

The filming is currently taking place in Australia. According to the Daily Telegraph, Luhrmann and his wife Catherine Martin will re-create famous New York and Long Island landmarks from the 1920s.

Now, as beautiful as those set pieces are, it’s the story and performances that what would make a lasting impression. Which brings me to…

One area of concern…

Luhrmann is shooting this movie in 3D!! What, what?? Goodness me, I think Fitzgerald might be squirming in his grave. I think I can speak for most people that we want the right mix of visual appeal and rich human drama. Now, it’s highly likely that the movie would look good, but would the use of 3D actually help enhance the human drama?? I doubt it.

I think this quote from Dave Calhoun, film editor of Time Out, in this Guardian article said it best, “If you’re spending time worrying about how to make Gatsby’s hat poke out of the screen or Daisy’s necklace float in front of your eyes, what else are your spending time not worrying about,” he said. “Story? Dialogue? Pace? Acting? Character?”

I truly hope that Luhrmann could add some value by using 3D here, that it’d be worth the extra cost for us to see this. It’d be a shame if it actually distracts from the story, especially one as intriguing as The Great Gatsby! I guess we’ll find out on Christmas day this year.

Any thoughts on this film? Is this one a must-see or meh in your book? I’d also like to know if you’ve seen a previous adaptation of this famed novel.