Friday, March 20, 2015

Lana Del Rey Deserved Better Than The 2013 Great Gatsby (When Good Songs Happen To Bad Movies)

Welcome to a new bi-weekly column called When Good Songs Happen To Bad Movies, in which I look at pretty well done songs that just so happened to debut in more subpar features.

Lots can be said about Baz Luhrmann's 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby, but one can never say that the feature had a shortage of bombastic elements. Whether such elements were actually good or not is another debate (I'd say mostly not), but it is one of the more audacious movies made in recent years, with 3D being utilized to help fully sell the absorbing atmosphere of the era while rap music populates 1920's environments.

That kind of juxtaposition does make, for better or for worse, The Great Gatsby's music memorable, but thankfully, there are more quality filled examples of the movies music sticking around in one's mind. In fact, Lana Del Rey's Young & Beautiful is easily the best thing to come out of the whole movie, with it's mesmeric vocals and equally indelible lyrics doing a better job of reinforcing the themes of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel than the rest of Luhrmann's feature.
Now, I should note that I personally don't have a problem with film adaptations deviating from the source material, but I do hope such detours from what's come before lead to something worthwhile. If it doesn't manage to create an engaging experience in it's own right, which is certainly a situation that occurred with The Great Gatsby, than comparisons between the entities can't help but be made. Contrasting the book and the 2013 adaptation does help me realize how effective Lana Del Rey's mesmerizing tune really is; on it's own, it works like gangbusters, but when juxtaposed against Luhrmann's overtly extravagant film, it's more nuanced qualities begin to bubble to the surface.

Young & Beautiful carries with it a more sorrowful tone that works not only when comparing it to Fitzgerald's 1925 novel, but also when trying to analyze what just went so wrong with The Great Gatsby as a movie. Both the film and the song pay untold amounts of attention to their production, but there's actually some thoughtfulness to Del Rey's work, whereas Luhrmann's efforts just feel like the very definition of style over substance. That sort of approach would work well under any circumstances, but it's particularly effective when it's related to the original source material that the film is based on.

But when it comes to fully figuring out why Young & Beautiful excels like it does, perhaps F. Scott
Fitzgerald himself put it best when he noted how "Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle." It's a true statement that speaks wonders about both pop culture entities. The 2013 Great Gatsby movie failed by embracing the visual splendor of the 1920's without ever really understanding it's tragedy, while Young & Beautiful, while never specifying it's time period, depicts both glory and adversity in a more skillful manner.

This particular tune understands that for romance of any kind to be impactful, no matter what medium it's depicted in, must demonstrate a variety of emotional circumstances. Despite having a roster of talented actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan at his disposal, Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby never manages to dig into the intricacies of it's characters, emotions or time period. But at least it gave the world a song that'll live on long after The Great Gatsby becomes a minor item on DiCaprio's IMDB page.

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