There are a lot of things that you can say about Baz Luhrmann’s take on The Great Gatsby: It is cheesy as a block of Velveeta. It is a triumph of art direction over common sense; art directed, in fact, to death. (And not a natural death, either. The whole movie is a crime scene.) Leonardo DiCaprio is miscast, playing Gatsby in the same exaggerated manner that he played notorious eccentric Howard Hughes in The Aviator, making Daisy’s attraction to him mystifying. Perhaps in a better movie the actor’s odd choice to underline the fact that Gatsby is a stalker might have worked, but not in the context of Luhrmann’s glittering empty vessel. Well over two hours long, The Great Gatsby is one of those movies that aspires to be an epic, but only manages to be an epic bore.
It is also a movie that offers a tease, and this may be the worst thing about it: There is a bandleader at Jay Gatsby’s parties who is clearly supposed to be Cab Calloway, the body language is so exact. And yet there is no Cab Calloway on the soundtrack. This is a Jazz Age drama with no apparent love for the era beyond its fashions. Of course, given what’s on the soundtrack, it is entirely possible that Luhrmann simply misread it as the Jay-Z Age. He no doubt hopes that Beyoncé‘s old man will help lure the young ones into a movie that is not youthful at all. Calloway’s effervescent jazz might not have aided that cause either, but it would have injected life into a movie that desperately needs some. – Pam Grady