review round-up

What Critics Are Saying About Baz Luhrmann and His Crazy Great Gatsby Parties

A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama “THE GREAT GATSBY,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama “THE GREAT GATSBY,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/Bazmark Film III Pty Limited

The reviews for The Great Gatsby are out and they’re decidedly mixed. (The film has a 55 on Metacritic and 45 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.) Yet there are a couple of things critics seem to agree on. Most think that Leonardo DiCaprio makes a mighty fine Gatsby. And almost everyone has something to say about how super-nuts Baz Luhrmann’s party scenes are. They might’ve been too wild or loud or 3-D for some, but they all acknowledge that at minimum they look expensive. As Slate put it: “The Great Gatsby is the story of a supremely unsubtle man given to bold gestures and flashy set pieces, so maybe Luhrmann was born to adapt it.” Read a roundup of party descriptions below:

“The Deco extravagance of the big party scenes is enthralling. Luhrmann throws money at the screen in a way that is positively Gatsby-like, walloping you intentionally and un- with the theme of prodigal waste. I imagined him directing the spectacle while fending off — like Gatsby — phone calls from shady moneymen: ‘You spent a million dollars on fireworks? You needed how many sets of twins on how many fountains for one shot? Putz!’” —New York Magazine

“And then there are the parties. And that’s what you really wanted to know about, right? Luhrmann, director of photography Simon Duggan, and production and costume designer Catherine Martin don’t skimp on the spectacle: Confetti falls like silver rain. Champagne glasses glint in the light. Garters, teddies, and fringe shimmy everywhere. Many of the costumes come courtesy of Miu Miu and Prada, and they include swishy silk kimonos and sheer dresses whose beading looks as if it were sewn onto air. It’s all so fake. It should all be so horrible. But really, all Luhrmann has done is build a crazy art-deco Taj Mahal to the glory of The Great Gatsby.” —Village Voice

“As for the dreamlike production design of Gatsby’s enormous, bacchanalian parties — which intentionally suggest every era of debauchery from the Roman Empire to the Weimar Republic and beyond — Luhrmann is in his element. Movie stars swan, showgirls jitterbug and politicians and captains of industry trade the wet, sloppy kisses of corruption; the camera climbs toward the ceiling and then dives through the howling throng, while you can almost hear the Mephistophelean laughter behind it all.” —Salon

“Gatsby’s mansion is a cross between Neuschwanstein Castle and what San Simeon might have been if Hearst had been more gregarious; partygoers swarm like cicadas, and make as much of a racket.” —Wall Street Journal

“Luhrmann turns Gatsby’s big parties into a writhing mass of flesh, feathers, dropped waists, cloche hats, swinging pearls, flying tuxedos, fireworks, and breaking glass. There are so many hurtling, ecstatic bodies and objects that you can’t see much of anything in particular. When the characters roar into the city, Times Square at night is just a sparkle of digitized colors. Luhrmann presumably wants to crystallize the giddy side of twenties wealth and glamour, but he confuses tumult with style and often has trouble getting the simple things right.” —The New Yorker

“Luhrmann doesn’t just gild the lily, he spray-paints it with glow-in-the-dark sparkles.” —Slate

“Racking up his 3-D budget to the credit-card limit, Mr. Luhrmann turns these dinner dances into drunken confetti-drenched orgies. The sumptuous, vulgar Gatsby estate, overflowing with gangsters, movie stars, flappers, wisecracking alcoholics, voluptuous tap dancers, people falling from trapezes, clowns, acrobats and an orchestra in the middle of a swimming pool full of inflatable rubber zebras, looks like a high-school costume party on prom night invaded by Cirque du Soleil.” —New York Observer

“It’s as if Luhrmann is convinced that this age of decadence and debauchery was one big techno pop rave, so why not just pump up the volume and zoom the camera around with shebang, pow, pop and whiz.” —Indiewire

“The guests at Gatsby’s party are too obviously directed, and there’s no sense of escalation in the gatherings; from frame one, they’re a Dionysian whirl of booze, lust and hero worship, minus the sense that that things are ebbing and flowing as they would at a real party.” —

“Instead, the succession of costumed party sequences — in the flat of Tom’s mistress, in the restaurant with the scheming Meyer Wolfsheim, culminating in the ‘kaleidoscope carnival’ at Gatsby’s absurdly opulent mansion — play out to a drunken, dizzying beat that’s simultaneously invigorating and enervating, leaving us, much like Nick, ‘enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety’ of Luhrmannesque life.” —Globe 

“The excesses of Roaring Twenties New York high society are certainly pooh-poohed in the film, but they are swaddled in so much visual pop and frenetic beauty that the criticism barely registers.” —The Atlantic

“The first party scene — there are two big ones, as well as a definitive speakeasy sequence — is a real wowser, with exaggerated colors that give us a look at what that era’s two-strip Technicolor might have looked like in 3-D.” —New York Post

“Before Gatsby arrives, and well after he’s established himself, most of the shots in the movie come at you in a fire-hose rush: faces, sequins, hair, asses, confetti, liquor, cars, billboards, an anguished body flying through the night. The movie has such an overcranked energy that it has to stop to catch up with itself.” —Grantland

“So the champagne flows like monsoon rain and the wild parties roar.” —Variety

“Intellectually, one anticipates a twinned euphoria and end-times despair during the many party scenes, but for all their surface bombast and precise choreography, they are at once frantically and yet palely rendered — a shadow play of something that should be felt viscerally and on multiple levels.” —Austin Chronicle

“If a scene calls for sparks, Lurhmann provides fireworks; if drama demands depth, he presents it in 3-D.” —Tampa Bay Times

“Every party is a bacchanal — and for an hour, the nonstop flow of liquor, steroidal Busby Berkeley setpieces, and swirling confetti are enough to keep the movie engaging. For once, Luhrmann’s gaudiness serves his material.” —AV Club 

“Gatsby’s parties are Ziegfeld Follies raised to orgasmic pitch. Hundreds of swells, flappers and ’20s celebrities (Gilda Gray, Josephine Baker, Cab Calloway) dance madly to purposefully anachronistic songs by Jay Z and Beyoncé, as the night sky erupts into fireworks and a blizzard of confetti. This is not so much the Jazz Age, or even the Pizzazz Age, as the Razzle-Dazzle Baz Age. The precision and economy of Fitzgerald’s style (the book runs a spare 48,000 words) get translated into the famous Luhrmann flair, expressed in art-direction adjectives and visual exclamation points.” —Time

“Luhrmann zips through the high-society swirl with frenzied montages, spinning newspaper headlines, and Cirque du Soleil-style party scenes where flappers on trapezes (thanks to the film’s 3-D) seem to swing right into your lap and DJs spin 21st-century hip-hop tracks. At first, these anachronistic bacchanals are intoxicatingly strange. But eventually they just seem insane. You half expect a chorus line of Oompa Loompas to high-step on screen with Beyoncé.”  —Entertainment Weekly

“Every rosebush and patch of green on the ginormous fantasy-land estate of the mysteriously rich Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) stands out in brilliant, beautiful fakeness. The water in Gatsby’s never-swum-in swimming pool and the adjoining bay are a heart-stopping blue; the famous light at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s dock is of course a piercing emerald in the mist.” —Salon

“In the 3-D version, the viewer swoops and swerves through one of Gatsby’s parties in a movement that combines Vincente Minnelli-style suavity with the controlled vertigo of a theme park ride. As it happens, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) compares the sybaritic scene at Gatsby’s mansion to ‘an amusement park.’” —New York Times

What the Critics Say About Gatsby’s Party Scenes