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Allow me to start my Gatsby review with a confession: I am not a Leonardo DiCaprio fan. Never have been, never thought I would be. For some reason, he just creeps me out. However- I really liked The Great Gatsby, including (perhaps even particularly) Leo as Jay.

First, I would like to give the casting director a hug. Leo was the perfect Jay, and I might have liked him better than I have in anything else I’ve seen him in (that might not be much coming from me, but hey, it’s great progress). His acting was excellent, and I felt more sympathy for his character than any other in the film, though in the book he is portrayed as far from perfect. Tobey Maguire wasn’t anything to write home about, but honestly, neither is the character of Nick, who is oftentimes more of an observer than a participant, so I didn’t much mind. Carey Mulligan was, as usual, perfect- she was a flawless “beautiful little fool” wearing, of course, an equally flawless costume. Which brings me to my next point- the costumes were flawless throughout. Other than Daisy’s, I was also extremely in love with Gatsby’s. The beige sweater and the pink suit were my personal favorites.

Obviously the music and scenery were impeccable. No one could possibly accuse Luhrmann of not going all out for the Gatsby party. I even liked the trippy modern-jazz concoction of a soundtrack, which was interesting and new in a way that, for all the criticism it might draw, matched rather well with the colorful, insane visual of the film. All the sets, from the insane Gatsby palace, to Nick’s house covered in flowers for Daisy’s tea, to the ornate hotel room where Gatsby and Tom get in a fight, were overwhelmingly well-done.

The part of the movie that really had my jaw dropping was the scenes of Gatsby showing Daisy and Nick around his house. “House” might not be the right word: “palace” is more accurate. The palace is so ornate, enormous, and impossibly grand that you find yourself wanting to visit; it is the most striking visual in the film. In fact, what I liked best about this film is the way it pulls you into the world of Jay, Daisy, Nick, Tom, and the rest, truly causing you to get swept up in the heartbreak, the drama, and even the parties of fast-paced 1920s New York. In my book, any movie that can have this effect is one I have definitely enjoyed.

All that said, though I can’t see the movie winning any Oscars and it perhaps could have used a bit more emotional depth, this is a good movie. Maybe it’s just that I didn’t mind the spectacle of the over-the-top aesthetic and music of the film, and I understand why others might disapprove, but I personally enjoyed it. It was faithful to the book, made a valiant (and, as far as I’m concerned, successful) attempt to reel the viewer in with overpowering visuals and adapted modern music, and could not possibly have had any better of a cast. As Nick says, “I was within and without.” When you watch The Great Gatsby, you are within and without, and personally, I liked what I saw.

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The Pretty Good Gatsby: Because I’ve Never Seen Such Beautiful Shirts Before

Let me start off by saying this: sometimes, our perilously high hopes and dangerous, reaching desires can do us more harm than good. And sometimes, our perilously low expectations can yield pleasant surprises.

I was so utterly convinced that I was going to hate 2013’s The Great Gatsby, and yet I actually found myself enjoying Baz Luhrmann’s spectacle of sparkles and color, a roaring circus of booze and excess. Once you allow yourself to get swept up in the fast-paced, jazzy/hip-hop whirl of parties and pretentiousness, it’s an enjoyable, visually overwhelming film, based on the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel that will always outmatch any adaptation.

If you’re unfamiliar with Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age novel, the basic premise is that Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mysterious, wealthy man shrouded in a carefully calculated, respectable persona, seeks to reclaim his lost love, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), a wealthy, married woman whose “voice is full of money”. More than that, though, it’s Fitzgerald’s reflection on American society, wealth and recklessness and excess; a glittering facade covering something shallow and ugly.

Luhrmann definitely made use of the symbols (such as the green light) woven throughout The Great Gatsby, though without much subtlety, and pretty much adhered the plot and overarching the themes of the novel. Arguably, the most rebellious felony he committed against the source material was the use of a hip-hop/pop soundtrack against the backdrop of the Jazz Age, which I actually thought worked pretty well. The music was good–modern with a jazzy twist, laced with bits of recognizable 20s dance grooves–and fit in with the ridiculousness of the whole thing. My mom made an interesting argument for the anachronistic soundtrack: jazz music isn’t new to us. In the 1920s, everything was shining and glimmering and fast-paced and new, and jazz music characterized that, but, in today’s context, jazz music is, to some, kind of a relic. It isn’t exciting or scandalous to us. The music of the film fit in with the feeling of raw excitement, and made those crazy Gatsby parties seem even crazier.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as Gatsby was certainly praiseworthy, with his pretentious “old sport”s and outward appearance of coolness broken by those moments of shaking nerves and bursting temper. Tobey Maguire was not particularly remarkable as Nick Carraway. My favorite performance came from Joel Edgerton’s rendering of Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s brutish, snobbish husband. He was really good.

There’s something to be said for a movie that can make you cry, no matter how or why. I got a little bit misty-eyed over the tragic end, yeah, but I found myself crying–I mean really, actually shedding tears–at the shirts scene. The part in the book where Gatsby brings Daisy to his opulent mansion is pretty sad, because you can see that he’s done all of this for a dream, an illusion of her. He has accumulated a mass of things and cultivated an attitude of respectability, always staring at that green light across the bay, in sight but out of reach. Naively, he believes that he can reclaim the past, if only he buys enough things. He’s a collector of things–things that he thinks will impress Daisy–and the thing he wants to collect most is Daisy herself, a sparkly thing who likes sparkly things. Daisy says, “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts before.”

Now in that euphoric, post-movie rush, I can say that I definitely enjoyed the film. Did I love it? Nah. Did it leave a great impact? I really don’t think so. But it was an enjoyable watch, and exceeded the expectations I had that were born of a dislike for Luhrmann’s flashy, overwhelming style. I have to say that I thought that style worked here. You could argue that the film lacked depth, but I still enjoyed it, and don’t regret going to see it. I would argue that Luhrmann’s film does the novel justice more than the stiff 1974 adaptation with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Luhrmann’s Gatsby is marked by excess and perhaps self-indulgence, but, like I said, I didn’t particularly dislike it. Had I seen it in 3D, though, I think I would be throwing up right now. Don’t do it.

Crackling with excitement and summer heat, The Great Gatsby is dizzying, sometimes disorienting and tacky, and actually pretty humorous. You’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting a love story (that’s not what this is and I hope you know that), and even more disappointed if you expect it to stand up to Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. As a movie to venture out to see on the weekend, I liked it.

The film swirls to its dramatic close and concludes with some of my favorite lines from literature:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.