1. It’s a fairy tale – Master showman writer/director Baz Luhrmann is nothing if not bold, and his vision of roaring ’20s New York City is simply spectacular. Beginning by framing the first shots of the film with art deco staging, it’s clear Luhrmann is taking us on a journey to fantastic world. Watching the film through this lens makes it easy to be whisked away as Luhrmann’s camera swoops and dives on the Big Apple, rollercoastering sharply from the top of the Empire State Building (included in this fantasy NYC a decade early) to the ground in one breathtaking shot that gives new meaning to the term “Vertigo effect.” But the dreamiest details of The Great Gatsby are the lights. Luhrmann sets the film ablaze in resplendent brilliance of all kinds, from Times Square neon to bursting fireworks. All this, combined with the cast’s dedication to melodrama, plants Gatsby firmly in the fertile soil of fantasy.
2. The clothes – Luhrmann is well-known for his glamorous costume design. If there’s one reason to see any of his films (Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge), it’s to see how fabulous he and his team gets with the fashion. But the director’s vision of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel as a fantastical romance is actually grounded by the film’s style. Nothing seems out of place. Luhrmann’s wife, costume designer Catherine Martin,partnered with Brooks Brothers and Prada (among others) to recreate the splendor of the age. The effect is a stunning combination of the old and the new. The flappers are out in full effect, bobs and drop-waist dresses everywhere and the gents are buttoned up in tuxes of all colors, their hair slicked with handfuls of pomade. Daisy (Carey Mulligan) is, of course, a picture of opulence in every scene, cloaked in dyed fur with her golden hair peeking out from beneath a slew of silk head scarves. Gatsby himself goes through no less than a dozen costume changes and he and Daisy share a romantic moment laughing in the Great One’s two story closet as Gatsby rains shirts down upon her, calling out the material each time.
3. The lifestyles of the rich and richer – Gatsby’s nouveau riche West Egg mansion rivals anything in the Disney fairy tale canon and Daisy and Tom Buchanan’s isn’t far behind. The grandeur is awe-inspiring and Gatsby’s parties live up to their billing and then some (but we’ll get to that). His circular swimming pool is gorgeous and the gardens of the Long Island homes are perfectly manicured. Luhrmann gives us a bird’s eye view of the Buchanan’s digs, soaring above the manicured landscape and following Tom (Joel Edgerton) on horseback as he rocks a polo ball the length of the yard. The automobiles (not cars) are just as impressive. Gatsby’s custom yellow Duesenberg is a luxury locomotive, a roaring symbol of immense wealth. With a budget estimated between $100 and $127 million, Luhrmann got his money’s worth.
4. The parties – Luhrmann models the look of the Gatsby extravaganzas after the famous clubs of the ’20s like The Cocoanut Grove. Crowds thunder down the hallways of Gatsby’s mansion awaiting entrance to the grand ballroom. Inflatable animals float in the glistening pool as mobsters, celebrities, and politicians mingle together. A relative of Beethoven wales away on a giant Wurlitzer while models swing above the dancing crowd on flower-decked trapezes. Luhrmann’s vision of Gatsby’s parties are so awash with detail it’s easy to forgive him for including Jay-Z tracks, a distracting nuisance to the old-fashioned magnificence of the fiestas. Most impressive is the sheer volume of people in the party scenes. Luhrmann paints an extravagant portrait that is altogether garish, over-the-top, and brilliant.
5. The Great Gatsby – We know about his money, clothes, and possessions but what’s beneath the diamond encrusted facade of Jay Gatsby? Well, he’s much different than you might expect. Leonardo DiCaprio brings a surprising humanity to the character which is at times endearing, off-putting, and intensely awkward. It’s a complicated performance that’s sure to be the talk of critics. Luhrmann introduces Gatsby gloriously, serenading him with Gershwin while fireworks explode in the distance. DiCaprio turns and smiles at Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) and Fitzgerald’s words lend the gravity of the moment in voice over. “(Gatsby’s smile) understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself.” DiCaprio embodies Gatsby’s otherworldly allure. But his depiction is a stark contrast to Robert Redford’s in the 1974 adaptation. DiCaprio’s Gatsby is childlike in many ways, from his reckless driving to his blatant insecurities apparent in his pursuit of Daisy. He’s the most compelling character in the film.
The Great Gatsby hits Aussie cinemas this Thursday (May 30) make sure you see it!