Damien Chazelle came on the scene like a champion. His first three major motion pictures have garnered a lot of buzz from critics and fans alike. La La Land almost won the Best Picture Academy Award after a mess-up between Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway got straightened out. Moonlight eventually won instead. But Chazelle did win the Best Director Award which was a consolation prize. Even JK Simmons won a Best Supporting Actor Award for Whiplash. Babylon is his first film since The First Man. It’s not his best film though.
Babylon like the description in the Bible starts out with a party of debauchery, naked women, a jazz band, drugs, sex, even an elephant, and everything in between. The four major players in the film all get introduced at this wild and crazy party. The film takes off from there and shows the ins and outs of Hollywood. The ups and downs as well. From the back lots to the stars’ mansions. Night clubs and rundown apartments. All the various levels of where these characters live and work and who they are is depicted in all their glory.
Nellie La Roy (Margot Robbie) is a down-on-her-luck actress that lives in a slovenly apartment with her mother. She has a dream to become a big-time actress in silent pictures. When the star of a movie that was supposed to start filming the next day ends up dead over a drug overdose she gets her opportunity. She makes the most of it.
Manuel Torres or Manny as he likes to be called (Diego Calva) is a server at the party when he gets noticed by the famous actor Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) he starts to work for him after the party which serves to help him eventually get involved in the production side of filmmaking in Hollywood.
Pitt’s character is a successful actor who gets any part he wants. He is a bit of a womanizer and has multiple marriages and divorces within the framework of the film. He is also an alcoholic. He has it all but even someone so famous and popular is missing something in their life. Sometimes they are lost and alone and all the adulation and fame are lost on them.
The fourth main character in the film is Sydney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) He is a trumpet player in the jazz band. He also gets noticed by a producer at the party and starts getting work in Hollywood at various parties which are parlayed into work in film. He gets more than he bargained for when has to do something he’s not comfortable with doing.
Chazelle films the movie in a bright colorful way where specific things stick out like a red dress or a white suit or other abstract things. The way he tells his story is pretty cool because it sets up the three-act structure perfectly. He uses years as chapters that span from 1926 to 1952. The first two acts are pretty entertaining while the third is downright depressing. The third act starts in 1932.
The music is one of the best parts of the movie. The film starts out with the theme played by the jazz band at the party and moves forward from there but that theme is always present when the various scenes are taking place without the band. The various parties and gatherings also help to show the musical side of the film. Adepo’s character is at the forefront of that aspect of the movie.
Another aspect of the film I liked was the production design and costumes and make-up and hairstyling. The film looked like it was filmed back in the time it was set with a title sequence fit for an old-fashioned Paramount film even though Kaleidoscope Films, Warner Brothers, and others studios are featured in the movie. The sets were stunning from the beginning party to various film settings and studios. These are some of the best-looking sets and with that goes the costumes and make-up and hairstyling. These characters looked the part from beautiful gowns to three-piece suits. Everybody looked like they should have been in this film and back in the day of Hollywood, California.
Babylon is a wild, crazy fever dream of a film. It shows how Hollywood can chew people up and spit them out. The four main characters and a couple of e supporting characters are well-fleshed out by Chazelle. He shows all the various types of people and their lives in Hollywood. The performances from Robbie and Calva specifically are quite good. The structure is a good idea at first but eventually proves to be the film’s undoing. The third act specifically is a huge letdown. The conclusion of the main characters’ arcs are very interesting. All in all this movie is all over the place with it being just a three-hour mishmash of scenes that don’t add up to being anything substantial.
Dan Skip Allen