Hot summer nights, mid July
When you and I were forever wild
The crazy days, city lights
The way you’d play with me like a child
Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me when I am nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will, I know you will
This is the chorus to Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful. One of many great songs on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrman’s THE GREAT GATSBY. Co-written by Luhrman and Del Rey, it goes on to suggest the nostalgia and sadness brought forth by the rekindled romance of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. Some might say that this song comes from the melancholy and waif like perspective of Daisy but I think the song more reflects Gatsby’s point of view.
So, THE GREAT GATSBY is required reading in most 11th grade curriculums. Few enjoyed required reading. South Pasadena High School, my alma mater was actually a school heavy with readers from all social standings. There were your Orson Scott Card nerds, there were your young pretty blondes reading those terrible Stephanie Plumb novels. And there was me, trying to convince Mr. Asher that QUANTUM LEAP spin-off novels were perfectly reputable reading materials to write a report about. We had very little room to digest CATCHER IN THE RYE and THE SCARLETT LETTER and god forbid the adventures of a bunch of well to do flappers from a decade that a bunch of 16 year olds were far from comprehending. Let’s get the facts straight. THE GREAT GATSBY is hella boring. The late great Andy Kaufman would actually punish rude audiences by taking out the novel and reading it in it’s entirety until either the end of the show or everybody had left, whichever came first. Not only is this the funniest thing that I’ve ever heard but I also believe it is rather apt. We were also subjected to viewings of several different film adaptations (which is probably the last effort at grabbing our attention from a public school’s viewpoint) and each was more boring than the last.
But over the years I’ve adopted the philosophy that there is something to every story. A different interpretation to deliver the same themes and story to a more modern audience is not a bad thing. Most hoity toits would consider that as dumbing down or broading the material but I like to think of myself as someone who can detect a genuine effort. I certainly give enough time and thought into such things. Look, I’ve seen LOVE DON’T CO$T A THING. I know when I’m being talked down to. If an amazing 1920's style version of Crazy In Love is what I need to swallow down my medicine then SO BE IT.
And the gimmick of this version is rather simple and appropriate. Baz Luhrman got together with Jay Z to produce this wonderful soundtrack that takes the latest in popular music from several different genres and infuses some of them with a 1920’s moxie. Drinking and partying is a very universal theme. Using the soundtrack to highlight the excess and glamorous lifestyle of the characters was a very fun aside that doesn’t do much to hurt the core narrative, which is as follows. Nick Carraway is in a sanitarium, dictating to a doctor the events and the people that got him there. A simple bondsman who moves into the glitzy Long Island flapper neighborhoods of yore at the bud of an economic boom, and he gets sucked into the scene with little protest. It seems his super rich and super revered neighbor, ubermensh blonde haired and blue eyed white man Jay Gatsby has taken a liking to him. Leonardo DiCaprio probably gets one of the best introductions in film history as Rhapsody In Blue (a track that Gershwin created specifically for one of the climactic sequences in GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH) swells and fireworks go off behind the smiling mug of one of the most handsome men of our age.
There is a lot of pomp and circumstance in the first act of GATSBY, and that’s because there is a lot of boring exposition that Luhrman smartly jazzes up with sweeping shots of 1925 era New York. The parties are also pretty lavish. Full of glitter and charlestons as far as the stereoscopic camera eye can see. This is the only problem with the glorious soundtrack. There’s too much awesomeness and not enough actual screen partying to fit them all into, so sometimes Florence plus the Machine get burned off elsewhere. Luhrman also knows when to slow it down for the more intimate moments. I didn’t see this film in 3D but the first half of the movie kind of made it very clear that I should have. I wonder if it would have been distracting in the way the Star Wars prequels were when they had people acting in a completely computer generated setting. Anyway, it turns out Nick’s cousin is an old flame of Gatsby’s from before he went off and became a hero of WWI. WW ONE for crying out loud. So he gets Nick to get them to meet again and Del Rey’s song plays about five or six more times in the movie. I’m not complaining, it’s a great song. They even have a more jazzy up tempo version that they play during one of the party scenes. It seems this Gatsby fellow never got over Daisy and thinks that they can continue where they left off. Even though Daisy is in a marriage with Owen Lars. But it’s a loveless marriage so it’s okay. And he’s already cheating on Daisy, which is double okay. It becomes apparent that getting Daisy back has taken far more of Gatsby’s time and efforts than initially thought and he thinks that if Daisy just broke it off with Lars that everything can go back to the way it was.
The movie is 2hrs and 22mins. This is too long. And I think the movie delivered enough for me at the two hour mark that my body felt it was okay to go sleep for the duration. This led to some very comical points to wake up during if you know the story and it’s ending, which I will not spoil here. Suffice it to say, I wikipedia’d the rest of the movie and sleep was fine. It kind of ends in a melodramatic soap operaish way. The movie before all these dramatics did a really good job at setting an entertaining tone and vibe. They didn't get to all of the themes of the novel, that a lot of people think is about the death of the American dream or some such nonsense. But it’s an engaging love story filled with many good performances. DiCaprio is very charming. As the most successful cast member of GROWING PAINS, I think he's done us proud. And Carey Mulligan who plays Daisy is scary good. Adeline Clemens from that Keanu Reeves indie I saw last week is in it, so that was very exciting. Isla Fisher is great and Tobey Maguire continues to sound like my Aunt Helen. This is the first official team up of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire who are industry best friends and founding members of The Pussy Posse. A 1990’s group of actors that laid more pipe around Los Angeles than the 1994 Northridge Earthquake rehab. Actually this isn’t the first movie they’ve done together. That same group of actors made a movie in 1999 called DON’S PLUM. This movie was meant to be more of a test or experiment or whatever because Leo and Tobey sued the director who tried to release it and it’s officially banned from the US and Canada. Yes, you can buy it in Mexico. Yes, this was Jenny Lewis from Rilo Kiley’s last acting role. Based on this footage you would probably be safe in assuming or pretending that this is a documentary.
So GATSBY is a fun time and turned something boring into something watchable and still managed to get some of the original points in there too. It’s also a nice little change of pace in terms of where summer blockbusters are concerned. Big budget effects laden dramas are cool too, dudes. Baz Luhrman had something to bring to the material and that’s more than a lot of adaptations have behind them. I just want Steven Soderbergh to do a Michael Crichton novel now so I can die happy. I give the adequate Gatsby
*** out of *****