not in our stars, but in ourselves
I’m just going to say this, and either open myself to ridicule or prove myself a prophet: I am EXTREMELY skeptical about Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, set to be released in a few weeks. Will I see it? Of course. Will I be gritting my teeth throughout? Most likely.
It’s not that I think Luhrmann can’t make a good movie. I happen to love Strictly Ballroom (1992); I am usually more charmed than annoyed by Romeo and Juliet – sorry, Romeo + Juliet (1996); and Moulin Rouge (2001) came out when I was exactly the sort of enthusiastic teenage wacko intended as its target audience, so even though I don’t think I can ever watch it again, I still have some affection for it. We will not speak of the execrable Australia (2008). If the subject matter is larger-than-life, wild-eyed and impossibly romantic, Baz is your guy. Nutty Australians on the ballroom dancing circuit? Yeah, baby! Hysterical teenagers who think they’re in love? Oh, indeed. A resuscitation of the musical movie that out-Herods Herod and out-Technicolors Technicolor? Yes, sir, you got it.
But a film adaptation of a novel that’s about something as insidious as class differences, as elusive as the American Dream? No.
I get it: the ’20s were one hell of a decade. Ten years of debauched parties, fueled by postwar mania and brought to a screeching halt by the stock market crash. If The Great Gatsby were only about those bacchanals, then I would be thoroughly excited for Luhrmann’s filmic adaptation thereof. I’m not opposed to using hip hop and the like in period movies, as evidenced by my strident love for Django Unchained (2012). Conveying the excitement of an era with more contemporary pop culture references, when done right, is fine by me. Lana del Ray is never fine by me – but that’s another story.
Please note: I am not opposed to film versions of The Great Gatsby. It’s a gorgeous novel, and deserves a gorgeous movie. However, while it’s not the most subtle thing ever written, it does necessitate a director with nuance. Do you think Baz Luhrmann understands the difference between Old Money and New Money? Uh-uh. No way. From what I’ve seen of the trailers, etc., everyone is New Money. Luhrmann is a New Money kind of director. Garish, gaudy, gauche, as well as exciting and enthusiastic. I mean, he’s Australian. That’s his stock-in-trade. And I should note that Catherine Martine, his wife and production/costume designer, is extraordinarily gifted. When I was that wacko teenager mentioned above, half the fun I got out of Moulin Rouge was watching the special features about how and why she designed things the way she did. All the can-can girls have their own unique characters, reflected in their clothes! What fun! But anyway, I feel about 99% certain that Luhrmann will fall utterly flat when he tries to show us the differences – so crucial in the novel – between Old and New Money, between East and West Egg.
If I had my druthers, I’d like to see Sofia Coppola direct. She can do subtle, she can do exuberant. She can do period films with contemporary thrills. She has an extraordinary eye for detail and luxury. Can you imagine her softly lit, gently gleaming Daisy? Can you likewise imagine her expensively attired, self-conscious Gatsby? I sure can, and I weep that no one made it happen.
Alas. We have what we have, for now, and it will surely be interesting – if nothing else. Maybe some good will come out of it, too: maybe, just maybe, this will finally be the role for which Leonardo DiCaprio’s decades of on-camera ugly crying will finally bring him an Academy Award. Let’s all cross our fingers and hope so.