Year Released: 2013
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo CiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton
(PG-13, 143 min.)
"We are punished by our sins, not for them." Elbert Hubbard
The saxophone wails. A polished Rolls Royce sidles up to the sparkling pool to deliver a bevy of bobbed flappers. Shimmering dresses dazzle only to be outdone by the jeweled tiaras on these self-anointed queens of the Jazz Age.
And above them all, quietly looking down on this joyless ode to excess, one may find the Great Jay Gatsby himself, his eyes searching the crowd for only one thing. The only reason for his celebrated parties that turn every weekend on West Egg Long Island into an explosion of synchronized chaos – Daisy Buchanan.
If you’ve seen the previews for this 2013 vintage of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, complete with the noisy soundtrack of Jay-Z, you may think this is just another MTV style dumbing down of a classic. But director Baz Luhrmann, unlike Sofia Coppola in her 2006 Marie Antoinette, is not seduced by the excesses he portrays. And his dash of anachronistic modernity has worked before, as Brendan Dempsey tells us.
In fact, this kind of thing is nothing new for Luhrmann, whose penchant for setting period flicks to modern music has become one of his calling cards. In 1996's "Romeo + Juliet," Romeo (also DiCaprio) toted a pistol to the sound of Radiohead, while pop star Christina Aguilera provided some of the sounds for "Moulin Rouge," which was set in the early 1900s.
So don’t be misled by the movie trailers that flaunt the parties and paper over the personalities. This is an ensemble cast that captures the combustible melee inked out in Fitzgerald’s novel. Like Nick Carraway (Tobey McGuire), Daisy’s cousin who has rented the small bungalow next door to Gatsby’s lavish residence, we are both “enchanted and repelled” by the artificial splendor and the ultimately amoral participants.
Leonardo DiCaprio nails his role as the ultimate man of mystery – his fabulous wealth and its sources a focus of gossip by the decked out hangers on who swarm to his parties like so many bees made drunk by gorgeous blossoms and the scent of nectar. He is at the center of this choreographed display but strangely aloof from it. His romantic obsession with Daisy softens his ill-fated quest to acquire enough lucre to lure her back to him. We endure his clumsy “talking points” recital of his wealthy background, not believing a word, but cannot condemn him. Gatsby’s idealism and vulnerability even abate the ultimately corrupt core of his riches.
Of course, we are guided along this path by Nick’s voice-over narration. He is at once Zola’s idealized detached observer as well as a reluctant procurer/ particpant in both Daisy and Tom’s adulterous adventures. While Tom’s debauchery ultimately repels, Gatsby’s idealized love for the married Daisy seems a thing apart. One pure thing in the midst of dirty world.
Joel Edgerton plays Daisy’s moneyed philandering husband like a force of nature. He is as over bred as his pricey polo ponies, knowing only the manicured greens of the course and never the harsher realities of the pasture.
Carey Mulligan’s Daisy is a more nuanced and demanding role. Somehow she does not have the magnetism that would justify Gatsby’s undying love for her; she is more a sad-eyed weakling taking the course of least resistance in marrying Tom and keeping a mostly blind eye to his infidelities in return for the good life. However, since Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy is for her to be the mirror of his preferred vision of himself, then her less than luminous presence probably enhances our dawning realization that Gatsby is verging on delusional. Perhaps we have more sympathy for her on screen than we do in reading the novel. Or perhaps her ultimate betrayal of Gatsby sinks in more slowly, simmering long after the credits roll.
The key scene with all the players at the Plaza hotel, the sultry, airless room an Americanized version of Sartre’s depiction of hell in No Exit, is a magnificent unmasking worth the price of admission alone. With an economy of words and compressed action, each character makes his own case, establishing a festering reality that resonates all the more in contrast to the glimmering fantasy that beguiled us earlier.
Throwing a wing ding, shindig, party for all those jazz babies and cool cats you know to celebrate the release of ‘The Great Gatsby?’ Check out this classy cocktail.
When Daisy fails to turn up at any of Gatsby’s lavish parties, he asks Nick to invite his cousin to tea at his rented bungalow, which is just next door to Gatsby’s magnificent abode.
Part of the humor and also a glimpse into Gatsby’s deep vulnerabilities is seen in his over the top makeover of Nick’s place for the "impromptu" meeting. A string of gardeners turn his yard into a manicured arboretum, while Nick’s house, now flooded with flowers, looks like a funeral parlor decked out for the town hero. Trays of towering professional pink confections supplant Nick’s hand made pink cup cakes.
“Is it too much?” the nervous suitor asks. Then, when Daisy does show, he cannot face her and runs out into the rain. Finally returning, his fine white suit sopping wet, Jay Gatsby tries to assume a casual air leaning against the mantle, all the while pretending not to notice the drip, drip, drip slowly saturating the floor.
I say the time for tea is over. What Jay need rights now is something stronger to settle his nerves and slow his beating heart.
And we have just the right thing for him in our West Egg Punch, a delightful concoction of White Cherry Vodka, lemonade, strawberries, watermelon slices and a twist of lemon.
Bottoms up, Old Sport.
West Egg Punch
Named after the town from which Gatsby hailed, this festive punch can be prepared in a big batch ahead of time. Make in a glass drink dispenser for guests to serve themselves.
1.5 oz White Cherry Vodka
1 oz lemonade
2 oz sparkling water
Muddle strawberries and watermelon slices. Add vodka and fill with sparkling water and add lemonade. Garnish with a lemon twist and a strawberry.