Director Damien Chazelle blew many away with Whiplash (2014) and La La Land (2016), only to disappoint many with First Man (2018). After four years, he bursts back onto the big screen with Babylon (2022), an epic about old Hollywood -and it will stun many. Babylon is far more vulgar than Chazelle’s other films, but the performances and manic energy Chazelle brings to the story make it undeniable.
Manny (Diego Calva) is delivering an elephant to a big Hollywood affair, as one does when he meets Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), an aspiring actress. After a wild night, Manny is tasked with taking home silent film star Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), who takes an immediate liking to Manny. From these fateful introductions, the film explores the many ups and downs of these characters – along with Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) and Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li) – as the industry chews them up and spits them out. Yet, this apparent love and admiration for the films come out of the sacrifice.
There are many filmmakers dropping their “importance of cinema” movies in 2022, and I’m here for it! After the theaters were all shut down as a result of the global pandemic, many theatergoers were apprehensive about returning to cinemas, and major studios subsequently began dropping big films straight to streaming platforms. The future of the art form seemed changed at the least and endangered at the worst. It makes sense that those who devote their lives to the craft would make a movie trying to sell the audience its importance. Whether this was the intent or a byproduct, the results are clear: filmmakers deeply value the art form, and the way in which they do varies greatly. Chazelle’s film seems to say that it is insane that movies are able to be made, and the process behind it destroys the people making them – but the fact that film matters and will persist, even after those stars’ lives are long gone, makes them meaningful. This message definitely sold me on my love of this movie.
Of course, a message does not justify a three-hour movie if the ride to get there is no fun. Fortunately for the audience, the performances from Calva, Pitt, and Robbie – plus the wild set pieces, paced perfectly – make this epic stand out. There wasn’t a moment that didn’t demand the audience’s attention. Some scenes would end with an incredible joke, and the laughter would release the tension – while others would conclude with an emotional gut punch. Toby Maguire comes in late and delivers a performance that is unforgettable. Somehow, he even manages to defy being lost to the insanity of the moments that encase his character. I shifted through stunning silent reactions to uncontrollable fits of laughter. There were so many moments in this film that elicited a reaction from me, that I was physically exhausted by the end of the movie.
Babylon is not for everyone. It is impossible to predict how the world will respond to this…there is a lot of nudity, tons of drugs, elephant poop jokes, and it is simply unlike any of Chazelle’s other movies. However, elements of La La Land’s score are teased throughout this film, as the two movies are engaged in some kind of bitter argument with one another. After First Man, I wasn’t expecting this kind of movie…but I think I loved it! Babylon earns the Must See rating.