I will always have a soft spot for Baz Lurhmann. The dude’s in my top ten favorite directors, easy. And he got there because, unlike most major filmmakers, Lurhmann relies entirely on his heart. He’s essentially an over eager talented three year old drawing in crayon all over the walls. He doesn’t care about metaphors. He rarely understands subtlety. If someone falls in love in a Lurhmann movie, it’s generally accompanied by rainbows, and bright hearts flying all around the screen.
His style assaults you so strongly that you’re forced to feel instead of think. Normally I hate anything resembling manipulation. But, with Lurhmann, it never feels like he’s forcing you to feel, or forcing you how to feel. The dude just feels so much that it bleeds over into his films which bleeds over to the audience. So, obviously, the dude’s a perfect fit for The Great Gatsby. The parties, the opulence, and seduction are all in Baz Lurhmann’s wheelhouse. Everything about Gatsby should be great. Instead, it’s merely good and I blame the actors, not old Baz-y Boy.
Gatsby stars Exposition Spider-man as he moves next door to Stalker Titanic “I’m King of the World” Jack. They become friends mostly because Stalker Titanic Jack wants to bang Exposition Spider-man’s cousin. She’s played by Miss. Ex Shia LaBeouf who pretty much just stands around like a pretty prop. There are parties. People get fucked. Some people even die. It’s all classic, classic stuff. No wonder English classes still teach this book.
It’s also incredibly faithful. There are direct exchanges lifted from the book, which I count as a good thing. Because the book is pretty snappy, narrative-ly speaking. There’s even bright popping visuals and kick ass soundtrack provided by Jay-Z. On paper, everything should work. But it doesn’t, not entirely, thanks to two actors in particular.
First off, Exposition Spider-man has never been that strong of an actor. He got lucky in Cider House Rules because his character was supposed to be a socially inept loner. Then he doubled down his luck in Spider-man because his character was supposed to be a socially inept loner. Yet, here, in Gatsby, he’s supposed to emote, do things. But he pretty much just sits around and casts longing gay-bones-glances at Gatsby. Exposition Spider-man is our lifeline to this larger than life world and, because he never does anything to earn the audience’s affection, a major piece of the film is lost.
Then there’s Gatsby’s lover Daisy. She’s a hot mess. And Miss. Ex Shia LaBeouf is many, many things but a hot mess isn’t one of them. She’s got the sad panda eyes down pat. And she even knows how to act like a glorified mannequin. But there’s always been a flippancy to Daisy. Yes, she’s sad and pretty but she’s also a bit hollow, a bit dumb. Miss. Ex Shia LaBeouf is not dumb. She’s too composed and classy to ever play dumb.
These two actors flounder through there scenes lifelessly until, like a spark in the night, Stalker Titanic Jack emerges with charisma and charm to guide these two through a Lurhmann film. Because that’s what it comes down to: it takes a very specific actor to thrive in a Lurhmann film. Moulin Rouge would have stunk to high heaven if Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman didn’t ooze sappy charm. And Australia floats solely on Hugh Jackman’s sad mysteriousness.
There are scenes in which The Great Gatsby does excel. Scenes that give us images of what could have been. The tea scene is a finely crafted piece of cinema that made me want more. It showed how wonderful Lurhmann is as a director, just as long as he has a proper cast to back him up. It’s a shame Gatsby’s cast wasn’t greater.