“Gatsby? What Gatsby?”

I’ll admit it – I was worried. Baz Luhrmann. F. Scott Fitzgerald. 3D.

There’s a lot going on with Baz’s version of Fitzgerald’s most popular novel “The Great Gatsby” so before I stepped foot in the cinema (graciously screened at ACMI, thank you for the tickets) I gave myself a pep talk: Luhrmann was an artist, not an historian. He was also not a fan of literature – to him, the source material would be just that: a starting point for his creative vision.

We need more artists – Luhrmann is one of the few directors working in the mainstream who appears relatively unimpeded by commercial constraints. He surrounds himself with other creatives and brings us a project of his choosing. It is kind of him to share it with us, because it’s always amazing even if it’s not high art.


Interestingly, this poster misspells the leading lady’s name. Tsk.

On the way into the cinema, I suffered a small set back – a display of costumes from the film, part of the Hollywood Costume exhibition. Daisy wore gold ballet flats. “Fear not” I said “Perhaps there is a good reason for why she’s wearing modern shoes (at best, a popular style decades after the film is set)? And really, what does it really matter when you have art?

I knew of course, that gold ballet flats would be a small artistic licence, one of many. Creative. Passion. Vision. Not history. Not literature. Sit back, strap yourself in and enjoy the wonderful spectacular ride that will be your trip to Luhrmannland.

Quite a ride it is, too – especially if you see it in 3D. Once I set aside my qualms I discovered new questions: had Baz succeeded in bringing his vision successfully to the screen? Yes, I believe he has – there is all the expected glitter and movement and excitement, frenetic energy interspersed with (the best bits) the slow, dramatic scenes when his fine cast get to show their worth.

Do Catherine Martin’s costumes do a good job of portraying the characters? Yes, I do believe they do. The costumes are an interesting mix of product placement with contributions by Prada and Brooks Brothers adding a dimension of film as fashion catalogue – you too, can have Nick Carraways’s shawl collar cardigan. Great for those Gatsby parties.

I can’t say that I mind this because despite the plentiful updating to appeal to a modern eye, the costumes are gorgeous and very wearable.

Which is not to say that I didn’t have issues with the costumes – I did, especially with the liberties taken with Myrtle/Isla Fisher and her very un-flapperish push up bra and gladiator stilettos – but more that the film will be much more enjoyable if you suspend disbelief, and embrace the sparkly fabulousness of it all. Consider it a visit to a strange land, where everything is new and exciting.

For those who would like to see Fitzgerald’s story come to life, you will probably be disappointed. An essential aspect of Jordan Baker’s character (her prolific untruthfulness) was forgotten, and the enduring mystery of Gatsby and his origins was swept away. The glamour, for all of Luhrmann’s efforts is a saccharine one, sweet but unsatisfying. This was not my Gatsby.


Mr DiCaprio looking like a grumpy but tasty sweet treat.

This is just the latest in a long line of interpretations of Mr Fitzgerald’s novelette and will surely not be the last. The book – like his other works – conjours up an extravagant lifestyle in a crazy era of decadence and social change and it is this aspect that appeals so much to film-makers, along with the universal themes of obsession and redemption.

I felt little for this Gatsby as he can have what he wants, if only he will compromise but his dream is a rigid one doomed for failure. Even the object of his desire can not sway him from it. He is not so much the “great” Gatsby, as the “flawed” Gatsby and his character comes out of it all no better that that of Daisy, whose choices seem understandable in the context of who she is and the times she lives in.

In many ways, she’s an old fashioned girl, a pretty doll to pose and admire “a pretty little fool” – in contrast to the refreshing modernity of her friend Jordan.

Please Jordan…just kiss him. He needs kissing.


I love this shot because Elizabeth Debicki looks like Kristin Scott Thomas, that most elegant of actresses. I foresee great things for Elizabeth.

I recommend that you see the film, and see it on the big screen to enjoy it as Baz intended – be overwhelmed by it, but don’t think too much, or expect too much.

It’s like a visit to the dessert buffet, a soothing balm for a unkind world where even the violence is easy on the eye, and afterwards you find yourself wishing for something a little saltier next time.

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3 comments

  1. Thank you for this review Nicole! I think you sum up my expectations of this movie and I’m definitely going to “embrace the sparkly fabulousness of it all”.

    Gatsby is one of those novels that will never live up to its reader’s expectations regardless of who makes the movie. I want to see this to witness Baz’s interpretation and for the glitz and glamour! 🙂

  2. I suspect that’s what makes Gatsby such a magical book, Teresa: we all have our different ideas about it. Personally, I’d like to see a really melancholic version, that focuses on the sadness rather than the glamour – but glamour is so wonderful, who can resist its siren call?

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