Michael Buice Jr.’s review published on Letterboxd:
I knew going into this that Baz Luhrmann’s aesthetic was not for me, and this was surely the nail in the coffin. It’s not without merit, though; and it’s a shame I can’t get into it, because it’s such an eclectic style not found anywhere else. How can I criticize someone who so surely knows what they’re doing and how to realize the ins-and-outs of that style? I don’t necessarily like what he does, but I’m glad his films exist nonetheless.
I remember actively hating The Great Gatsby, but that animosity wasn’t present here so much as simple indifference. The party sequences in Gatsby were loathsome, and that does carry over to this. Luhrmann is best when he brings the narrative down to the personal level—those moments when the characters inhabit this alien mise-en-scène one-on-one and the camera lingers over them for longer than expected. If Luhrmann created an entire film based solely on two people struggling to find love, I would be all the way in. As it is, there’s a constant push-and-pull and it’s tough to fully immerse myself in the instances that are actually great.
The musical aspect also falls into a similar situation. Adapting pop music from the twentieth century cultural zeitgeist into bombastic musical numbers is a risky move, one that rarely yields dividends in the film. The sequences involving Elton John’s “Your Song” are actually kind of wonderful for two reasons: firstly, the song is used in those aforementioned moments between the two lovers of the story, when Luhrmann shies away from any other nonsense and leaves us right in the middle of these deeply personal shared experiences; and secondly, because that harmony with those melodies is gonna sound good no matter how it’s adapted and presented. Chords that well-composed will always maintain their excellence.
So while there is so much good here and throughout his work, I’m simply unable to connect with anything he gives the audience. His work is audacious and unbelievably confident. After writing a bit, I still can’t quite figure out what exactly it is keeping me distant. I’m convinced of Luhrmann’s exceptional ability as a director, but he’s just not for me.