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The Great Gatsby

Frances Ha

May 16, 2013

The Great Gatsby (***)PG13

I know this is embarrassing to admit, but I’ve never gotten around to reading the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, The Great Gatsby. It wasn’t something that intentionally happened and it’s up there on the list with such other essential works as Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment. I promise I’ll get around to it some day but for now I suppose I’ll have to settle for filmmaker Baz Luhrman’s razzle-dazzle, eye candy laden, take on the novel. I guess it’s equivalent to reading the Cliff Notes version of a literary masterwork without having actually read the original source. On second thought, perhaps it may be best that I never got around to reading The Great Gatsby as I probably would have just been seething with anger at what the film left out of the mix or so I’m told. Nevertheless, as a film taken on its own terms, Luhrman’s take on Gatsby is best described as a handsomely mounted, albeit dramatically uneven, affair. The film works best during its final forty-five minutes or so when Luhrman takes the emphasis off of dazzling our senses and focuses instead on the dramatic fireworks inherent in the source material. As the film’s final scenes play out there are a few genuinely moving moments and set pieces but one can’t help but wonder what the film could have been had Luhrman aimed for story instead of attempting to see how far into overdrive he could shove the film’s visuals. Then again,  I’m not sure Luhrman is the kind of director capable of that sort of thing.

It is my understanding that the novel is not framed with a scene set inside of a psychiatrist’s office but that’s how the film version is set up. Here, things get off to a rolling start as businessman Jay Gatsby’s friend/matchmaker, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) narrates the film via flashback, relating the tale to his good doctor as he tries to make sense of the events leading up to his psychiatric treatment.

DiCaprio, Mulligan & Edgerton in Gatsby

We learn how Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) who overcame a life of poverty, regularly threw lavish parties that were the talk of Long Island in an effort to win the hand of the love of his life, Daisy (Carey Mulligan). Daisy, who also happened to be Nick’s cousin and was involved with Gatsby romantically before he left to fight in the first World War, took the hand of another man before Gatsby could marry her. Later, Gatsby would enlist Nick’s help in getting Daisy back into his life but there’s still the problem of her husband, Tom.  Unbeknownst to Daisy, Tom (Joel Edgerton) is also having an affair with the wife of the owner of the local gas station and you know with all of this drama that things can’t end well. 

As to the performances in the film they tend to run hot and cold. Joel Edgerton and Carey Mulligan, as Tom and Daisy respectively, seem to come off best, while DiCaprio and Maguire as Gatsby and Nick seem to be a bit out of their element here. I suppose it doesn’t matter, as the performances aren’t what most people get excited about in a Baz Luhrman film. If it’s stylishness you’re looking for you’ve probably found a Great Gatsby adaptation you can sink your teeth into. If you’re a purist and a lover of the book I would say tread lightly and enter at your own risk.

The Great Gatsby is playing in Hickory at the Carmike and in area theaters.

Questions or comments? filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

Frances Ha (***1/2) R

By Christy Lemire, AP

On paper it sounds unbearably precious and solipsistic – a cliche, even. Middle-class, college-educated white girl in her mid-20s wanders around New York City with no real home, job or purpose. She has no idea where she’s going or what she’s doing, and as she struggles to find herself, she ends up even more lost.

Wah.

But as it turns out, Frances Ha is absolutely charming: funny, sad, cringe-inducing and heartbreaking but, above all, brimming with authenticity, thanks in large part to a winning star turn from indie darling Greta Gerwig. This is a great showcase for Gerwig’s abiding naturalism; not a single moment from her feels cutesy, self-conscious or false.

She and director Noah Baumbach, who worked together on the 2010 comedy Greenberg, co-wrote the script, creating a sense of realism through a series of absurd moments. Frances is goofy and guileless, awkward and affectionate but clearly decent-hearted to the core, which only makes her misadventures more agonizing and makes you root harder for her to find true happiness.

Baumbach, whose previous films include the subtle, brilliantly observant The Squid and the Whale, borrows from a couple different sources here: the chatty, cultured New York epitomized by 1970s Woody Allen films and the black-and-white intimacy and restless youth of the French New Wave.

Greta Gerwig, l, and Lindsay Burdge in Frances Ha

But there’s a timelessness to this story and a universality: that state of uncertainty between the optimism of college and the responsibility of adulthood.

Frances is having a harder time forging a path between those two points than her best friend and roommate, Sophie (a grounded Mickey Sumner, Sting’s daughter), who works at a publishing house and has a serious boyfriend. At age 27, Frances is still an apprentice in a dance company, which barely pays the rent. When Sophie moves out of their Brooklyn apartment to live in her dream neighborhood of Tribeca (this movie it dead-on in its vivid sense of place) Frances finds herself hopping between couches and friends. Among them are a couple of artists/trust-fund kids (Adam Driver and Michael Zegen) and a fellow dancer (Grace Gummer) who’s clearly reluctant to take her in.

On a lark, Frances takes a weekend jaunt she can’t afford to Paris, which Baumbach strips of all its usual romance; she can’t even do something traditional like this correctly, but her trip is appealing in its messiness. But what’s so great about her is that after each setback, she picks herself up again.

Director Baumbach & Gerwig

Call it stubbornness or delusion, she is determined to be her flawed self at all times; Gerwig makes us fall in love with this seemingly mundane figure by revealing all her shades, all her humanity.

Nothing really happens in Frances Ha and yet the film takes us on an emotional journey. If there’s a misstep, it’s in the rushed romance between Sophie and her preppy financier boyfriend, which sets the story in motion but is never really believable. Eventually, though, Frances’ search leads her to a final moment that’s so simple and surprisingly lovely, it sneaks up on you with its emotional impact.

It may not be a conclusion, exactly, but rather more of a beginning. There’s hope for her yet.

Frances Ha opens in a limited release May 17; check online for theatres in Charlotte.

 

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