No, this isn’t me playing Howard Hughes again.

Theatrical Release Date: 05/10/2013
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Amitabh Bachchan
Rated: PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language.
Runtime: 2 hours, 23 minutes


Why yes, I have done this before.

If I told you that Tobey Maguire is the chief reason I could never give Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby a five-star review, it would be a true statement. Tobey Maguire is about as charming as a sack of potatoes.

He’s the most vanilla movie star we have today with his genial disposition, constant dweeby expression and well-enunciated but bland speaking voice. As Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s neighbor and Daisy’s cousin, he is our guide and narrator through Luhrmann’s decadent rendition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s celebrated novel. Unfortunately, Maguire’s screen presence and voice over are both so perpetually bemused that I spent more time wondering what the hell his problem was than engaging in the story he was telling us.

Luhrmann compensates for Maguire’s deficiencies with stunning visuals and a fantastic soundtrack. Every party sequence is dazzling and looks like just about the most fun anyone could ever have. It’s no wonder Nick is so awestruck in every situation and captivated by the lavish lifestyles of the rich. He introduces us to 1920s upper-crust New York and to Leonardo DiCaprio’s bronzed Jay Gatsby, mysterious millionaire playboy. Everyone is taken with Gatsby and wants to know him better (Who is he? Is he Batman? That’d be awesome!), but Gatsby is unknowable, a mythic figure to everyone but Nick and the audience.

I like Leo and his performance is fine enough, but Gatsby is a hard role to fill. It’s been filled before by Robert Redford and Leo’s version suffers by the mere comparison. He isn’t as lovely as Redford was, nor is he as charismatic. Leo’s Gatsby is still handsome, though, and he’s at his best when he isn’t surrounding himself with chaos; when he’s having small moments with the object of his affection, looking at her in the way “every young girl wants to be looked at.” Carey Mulligan’s Daisy is beautiful and enchanting, just looking at her you can see why anyone would love her. She looks exactly as you might imagine Fitzgerald meant her to be. Her clothes, her hair, her jewelry – all of it is just exquisite.

It’s enough to make you understand why Daisy cries while surrounded by beautiful clothes her lover has playfully strewn around the room. Sometimes a moment in time can be so full of beauty and sparkle and satisfaction that you can’t bear the thought that there ever has been or ever could be anything less wonderful than that. That’s where the film really shines. It manages to have moments that perfectly capture the longing we have for something more, for something perfect and beautiful to call our own.

But life tells us that that just isn’t possible and that is the crux of the problem with the film, moving past the performances into the core of The Great Gatsby. The story is about the American dream and its inevitable dark side. When you can have whatever you want whenever you want it, what won’t you do to obtain your dream? When you live and love in a perpetual state of excess, how can you ever know when enough is enough? And when you have a visually spectacular movie, how much attention needs to be paid to pacing and character development?

The confetti and champagne bubbles pop off the screen in 3D, but the movie never seems to know when enough is enough. When the parties are over and the love scenes are complete, Gatsby loses all of its steam. When the end comes, it’s at least a scene too late and I don’t feel much for any of the characters. There’s so much glamour but there isn’t enough heart. It’s worth seeing The Great Gatsby on the big screen just because it’s beautiful, but you won’t regret it if you don’t.

3 out of 53D Maybe