Thursday, May 23, 2013

Life of the party

Baz Luhrmann sure knows how to throw a party, and deal with the resulting hangovers. In the lavish adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” the filmmaker’s panache for grandiose and showy sensory spectacles still dazzles, although it does get uneven from time to time.
The second collaboration between Luhrmann and Leonardo DiCaprio (they worked with each other, 17 years ago, on “Romeo + Juliet”), “The Great Gatsby’s” strengths are its actors and the director’s mastery of music-visual melding. It’s dazzling and dazing, but between its revelries are quieter, more layered character focus and drama. Still, there is no subtlety when it comes to the visuals; almost every shot is ideally and artfully structured, which often affects the storytelling.

The story is seen from a depressed author’s perspective. Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) vividly recalls his friendship with his neighbor Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio), a wealthy and enigmatic young man who regularly threw talk-of-the-town parties at his New York mansion in the early 1920s. Nick writes down his thoughts on the much-admired host’s relationship with the married socialite Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), as well as Jay’s enmity with her philandering husband Tom (Joel Edgerton).

Pacing and storytelling flaws aside, “The Great Gatsby” is Luhrmann’s playground; one just feels the grandness and overwhelming power of the party scenes, often the backdrop for revelatory inner and inter-character conflicts. Sometimes, you’d wish there were more of them, despite their artificiality, but there’s appreciable power in the less comfortable and more serious parts of the film.

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