Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” is hitting theaters this week in advance of opening the 66th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 15. If you’ll recall, the film was all set to open last December amid the awards season glut as part of an already packed Warner Bros. slate. But it was shuffled on to a summer 2013 release to allow more time for post-production and, surely, to have a fighting chance at making some money.
I saw the film a few weeks back and, even as a Luhrmann fan, I was prepared for the worst. Why? A mixture of advance buzz, a trailer indicative of a film that could fall on either side of the line and even that rescheduling scenario, which is the kind of thing that rarely spells much more than trouble. After struggling for about a half hour to get into the film (Luhrmann’s usual largesse really takes some getting used to when married with 1920s New York), it settled in and a simple fact took hold: it takes a lot to ruin a story this great. F. Scott Fitzgerald keeps it on an even enough keel, I think.
Something else became clear, too: Of COURSE Luhrmann would adapt this story. Here is a filmmaker preoccupied throughout his career with passion, obsession and, yes, love. From “Strictly Ballroom” to “Moulin Rouge!” to “Australia,” that is the essence of his oeuvre. And this classic love story makes an interesting companion to 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet,” with that in mind. I walked away appreciative of the ambition, charmed by the themes and, overall, positive on the experience. Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance was a highlight, as was Joel Edgerton’s.
Had the film hit the season mid-gallop last year, I doubt it would have made much of a dent. Releasing in the summer here, it has a chance to breathe before that craziness takes hold in the fall months, but nevertheless, it’s unlikely to pick up much steam on the circuit. I imagine many will have the knives out for it as it is and the Academy demographic will surely be unforgiving.
As always, Luhrmann’s wife, Catherine Martin, does a bang-up job on the costume and production design. The former in particular could still find its way to an Oscar nomination, and the visual effects will be in the conversation but I don’t know how far they’ll go in what promises to be a tight category. Simon Duggan’s photography is electric, though I have to say the 3D choice was an odd one here; the story is an intimate one, and so the added dimension actually served to distance me from it rather than immerse me in it.
Luhrmann’s is a voice I’m glad we have. It’s a voice that never compromises itself, which is refreshing no matter the outcome. And “The Great Gatsby” finds its way. I imagine few will be willing to offer it the same pass already afforded to “Iron Man 3” this summer (a blockbuster with admittedly lower expectations given the genre and a film that doesn’t fail or anything, but surely doesn’t hit the level critics have notched for it — at least in my opinion).
For more, check out Drew McWeeny’s mixed review of the film.
“The Great Gatsby” opens everywhere Friday.