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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

Not What it Seems: “The Great Gatsby”

Nick Carraway, the omnipresent narrator-slash-tour guide of The Great Gatsby, describes the titular character as “the single most hopeful person I’ve ever met.” He could just as easily be describing the film’s director, Australian Baz Luhrman, whose decadent and elaborate take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel of reinvention and deception opened May 10th. Like Gatsby, Luhrman’s move is gilded, glitzy, and full of hope but, unfortunately, that hope is ultimately hollow for both director and character.

Credit: Warner Brothers

Luhrman’s “The Great Gatsby” isn’t bad. It’s just not The Great Gatsby.   Instead, Luhrman takes the complex and fragile threads of the story’s interwoven relationships, deceit, and staggering excess and weighs them down. Under the weight of bright colors, relentlessly computer-generated glitz, and confusingly surreal 3-D the threads of the story break leaving the best efforts of the cast futile. They seem as nothing more than paper dolls moved along by some clever editing.

Credit: Warner Brothers

Of course they are very pretty paper dolls. Carey Mulligan’s Daisy Buchanan, who never manages to break through what feels like a perpetual Xanax high and have real emotion, floats through the film in exquisite gowns that are just barely inspired by the Jazz Age. Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway is delightfully rumpled and nervous even in the most tweed of suits but never quite convinces the audience that, for having witnessed and been party to the catastrophe that was that summer in New York, he is a primary and reliable source. Joel Edgerton’s Tom Buchanan is spotless and menacing all at the same time.  Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby never quite seems to fit neatly into his character’s period-perfectly dressed skin, though whether that’s good acting for a character who himself is playing pretend or a lack of range for the actor is up for discussion. The costumes and the scripted lines are spot on for each character, but the actors performances are flat. The closest thing to a real, breathing character in the entire film is Isla Fisher’s Myrtle Wilson.  Myrtle, a character who is already a caricature even in the book, comes off as the most grounded and most genuine in the whole cast under the artful touch of a nearly unrecognizable Fisher.

Contributing to that numb sense of unreality throughout the nearly two and a half hour film are startling insertions of more contemporary music. In Luhrman’s previous films (Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge) contemporary music helps augment the story.  Here, “100$ Bill” and other contemporary tracks, while meant to layer on another element of the excess of the Roaring Twenties, instead serves to jar the viewer back into the present. One cannot simply lose themselves in the film which at some points feels less like a Baz Luhrman movie and more like an extended Jay Z  music video (understandable considering that Jay Z also serves as executive producer on the film.)

Credit: Warner Brothers

The film is beautiful, though, and the lush settings ultimately serve to do what the cast, script and director should have: illustrate that below the gilded exteriors there is only hollowness and disappointment.  Even at the feverish climax of the story the film seems flat and withers away like so many cut flowers that scatter the sets.  Perhaps that is the real story the film is trying to tell, that for all Luhrman’s efforts to grasp a truly fresh view of the timeless tale it is ultimately just like the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock is for Gatsby: just out of reach.

Overall: C-

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