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Review

All sparkle, no soul in Luhrmann’s ‘Great Gatsby’

  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

    This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Jason Clarke as George Wilson, left, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, center, and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, right, in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

    This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Jason Clarke as George Wilson, left, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, center, and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, right, in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Jason Clarke as George Wilson, left, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, center, and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, right, in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

    This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Jason Clarke as George Wilson, left, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, center, and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, right, in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

    This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

    This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson, standing left, Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, standing right, Adelaide Clemens as Catherine, seated from left, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Kate Mulvany as Mrs. McKee in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

    This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson, standing left, Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, standing right, Adelaide Clemens as Catherine, seated from left, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Kate Mulvany as Mrs. McKee in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson, standing left, Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, standing right, Adelaide Clemens as Catherine, seated from left, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Kate Mulvany as Mrs. McKee in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

    This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson, standing left, Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, standing right, Adelaide Clemens as Catherine, seated from left, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Kate Mulvany as Mrs. McKee in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Matt Hart)

    This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Matt Hart)

  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Matt Hart)

    This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Matt Hart)

  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

    This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

    This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

    This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Jason Clarke as George Wilson, left, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, center, and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, right, in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Jason Clarke as George Wilson, left, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, center, and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, right, in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson, standing left, Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, standing right, Adelaide Clemens as Catherine, seated from left, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Kate Mulvany as Mrs. McKee in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson, standing left, Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, standing right, Adelaide Clemens as Catherine, seated from left, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Kate Mulvany as Mrs. McKee in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Matt Hart)
  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Matt Hart)
  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in a scene from "The Great Gatsby." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

If any piece of classic American literature should be depicted on film with wildly decadent and boldly inventive style, it’s The Great Gatsby. After all, who was the character of Jay Gatsby himself if not a spinner of grandiose tales and a peddler of lavish dreams?

And Baz Luhrmann would seem like the ideal director to bring F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story to the screen yet again, to breathe new life into these revered words, having shaken up cultural institutions previously with films like William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! This is the man who dared to stage the iconic balcony scene in a swimming pool, so mixing in a little Jay-Z amid the Jazz Age standards strangely makes sense.

But in Luhrmann’s previous films, there still existed a fundamental understanding of the point of the stories he was telling; beneath their gorgeous trappings, they still reflected the heart and the purpose of the works from which they were drawn. His Great Gatsby is all about the glitter but it has no soul.

(We should point out that the clothes, especially the dresses Carey Mulligan wears as the elusive, ethereal golden girl Daisy Buchanan, are magnificent, though – the work of Luhrmann’s wife and frequent collaborator Catherine Martin, who serves as both production and costume designer.)

Luhrmann’s adaptation, which he co-wrote with Craig Pearce, lacks the sense of melancholy and longing that emanated from the novel’s pages, even though the script invokes Fitzgerald’s prose early and often through voiceover from Tobey Maguire as our narrator, guide and Fitzgerald stand-in Nick Carraway.

Gatsby himself, played with well-coifed panache by Leonardo DiCaprio, too often comes off as a needy, clingy stalker rather than a tragic figure and a victim of the American dream. But in general, though, Luhrmann’s Gatsby doesn’t get the fact that the book was intended as a critical look at a crumbling dream. It gets too caught up in the buzz of the party.

The plot, real quickly, in case it’s been a while since 10th-grade English class: The year is 1922, and young Nick Carraway has moved into a cottage on the nouveau riche Long Island enclave of West Egg with dreams of making it big on the New York Stock Exchange. Across the bay is the old-moneyed community of East Egg, where Nick’s cousin, the dazzling socialite Daisy, lives with her cheating, blue-blooded husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton).

But everyone, regardless of where they’re from, gathers each weekend for wild parties at Gatsby’s palatial abode – which happens to be next door to Nick’s humble house. The normally mysterious Gatsby befriends Nick with hopes of reconnecting with Daisy, the one who got away five years earlier.

DiCaprio, meanwhile – despite the usual depth and edge he can bring to a role – comes off here as a parody of a Fitzgerald character, tossing around Gatsby’s jovial greeting of “old sport” so often in his affected accent, it could make for a dangerous drinking game. Now that would truly be intoxicating.

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