Stylistic “Gatsby” a fitting adaptation of classic novel

Grade: B+

When you think back to high school English class, the first book that probably pops into your mind is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

This novel has been celebrated for decades and has had adaptation after adaptation made for the big screen. This summer was no exception, as another attempt was made to capture the rich and lively lifestyle of the jazz age.

This version of Gatsby, directed by glamour mastermind Baz Luhrmann (director of “Romeo + Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge”), could have gone in one of two directions.

It could have been an over-the-top mess with all style and no substance, or he could have infused the pretty scenery with some emotion and characters we care about. Many believe the first part is what the movie turned out to be, but I have to agree with the latter.

Luhrmann brings his signature style full force, giving every frame the pizazz that it deserves. The story centers around a mysterious man who throws parties that everyone who’s anyone attends, yet not a single one of them knows about their shadowy host.

“The Great Gatsby” is a very visual story, focusing on the hedonism and materialism of the 1920s upper class, and some have criticized Luhrmann’s “Great Gatsby” for glorifying the over-the-top materialism that he portrays.

I look at it as not “style over substance,” but the style working with the substance to help the viewer understand how people saw themselves in this era. As the narrator, Nick Carraway (played by Tobey Maguire), states, “they were a careless bunch.”

The party scenes are without a doubt exciting, especially when infused with a modern soundtrack filled with music ranging from Florence and the Machine to Jay-Z.

These scenes are all fun and eye-popping, but when you later find out the real reason why Mr. Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is throwing them, you start to notice a purpose behind them.

The acting is excellent, for the most part. For this movie to work and not just be a typical, run-of-the-mill period piece, it needs to be full of performances that can add personality to the roles.

Leonardo DiCaprio, who is my favorite actor working in the business today, is the perfect Jay Gatsby. DiCaprio has leading man charm while also being able to turn on the dramatic switch when needed, and he nails it here. He also happens to be introduced on screen in the most extravagant way imaginable.

Another stand out would be Joel Edgerton, playing the brute husband to Nick’s cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan). Edgerton has the ability to play off of DiCaprio so well and raise the tension when things are getting heated between characters.

Two actors who I can’t sing praises for are Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan. Maguire had the look of Nick locked down but ultimately failed to elevate the material and leave a memorable impression.

Mulligan, on the other hand, was simply someone I could not stand. Usually this Oscar-nominated actress is able to go above and beyond, but here she seems to be overacting and it becomes exhausting to watch her.

As an adaptation, this version is more than I could have asked for. “The Great Gatsby” is one of my all-time favorite books and it has a huge fan base behind it, so the pressure was on to make this film in a way that is relevant to our time while still sticking to the source material at hand.

For the most part, the writers did a fantastic job staying in step with the text. I would like to think that F. Scott Fitzgerald and Baz Luhrmann were destined to come together on a project. Luhrmann’s visual eye makes Fitzgerald’s words fly right off the page.

Little things were added to the film that weren’t in the book which I thought enhanced the visuals of the story. This can be seen especially in Nick’s narration. Everything about the production makes you feel like you are looking into the 1920s.

From the design of the house to the costumes worn by the characters, it all makes it easy to be sucked in and join in the fun knowing that this was a real and lively period in time.

“The Great Gatsby” is a party. It’s fun, fast paced and energetic all at once. But that’s not all that this movie is. There is an actual story behind the glitter and champagne.

The more we find out about the actual Jay Gatsby, the more we understand where he is coming from. If I were to pick out one word to describe the message of this story, it would be “dreams.”

These characters are dreaming of a better or different life for themselves, but it’s how they get to that point that shapes who they become.

In short, “The Great Gatsby” is full of both wild entertainment and rock-solid substance, relying heavily on visuals to get the job done.