Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Joel Edgerton in 'The Great Gatsby'/Photo © Warner Bros. Pictures
Baz Luhrmann possesses a Steve Jobs-like gift for fashioning something coveted, cool, and contemporary out of the familiar. He is an artist driven by the elemental thrill of dusting off a cherished cultural heirloom and swaddling it in in pulsing techno dance beats and the ecstatic sheen of glimmering production design and a cast bedazzled with movie stars. It’s an intoxicating approach that has yielded such original and pleasurable moviegoing events as “Romeo + Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge.”
However, Luhrmann’s revivalist recipe requires very specific ingredients that lend themselves to Luhrmann’s stylized approach. And after catching a glimpse of the pop-drenched trailer (below) for his adaptation of The Great Gatsby, we’re beginning to have our doubts about whether Luhrmann’s post-modern approach is compatible with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic allegory of Jazz Age social climbers and blue bloods facing the rude awakenings involved in dreaming beyond one’s means.
The gleaming mosaic of postcard images of Leonardo DiCaprio dressed up as Jay Gatsby, in his garden party best, looks more like a magazine spread of of-the-moment designers’ recapitulations of ’20s era finery. Carey Mulligan has always exuded a sphinx-like sense of mysterious timelessness and brings an air of intrigue to Daisy Buchanan’s hologram-like presence. Tobey Maguire provides his usual wide-eyed ballast as the seducible skeptic, Nick Carraway. But all the spectacle and fanfare strikes this viewer as nothing short of jarring and anachronistic.
We hope our reticence is nothing more than a stodgy rush to judgment of the work of an avant garde visionary. But something about the way Luhrmann has pumped up the volume on his own tendency toward showmanship has triggered our impulse to fight his over-the-top choices or flee the enterprise entirely. Does this footage set off similar warning signals? Or have you already pre-ordered the soundtrack for your Gatsby-themed dance party timed to the film’s Christmas Day release?