Where I Watched It: paramount Plus
English Audio Description?: Yes
Nominated for three Oscar’s, Babylon was noted this year for being an expensive dump of elephant crap. That’s not exactly the best way to think about Babylon, but even before this film was released in theatres, I heard mixed things. Basically, if you can make it past the first ten minutes, this three hour tour won’t bother you. But, Damien Chazelle banking a 100M+ oscar bait movie on a film that starts with an elephant shitting all over someone is a tough ask. He might be getting a little big for his britches, considering in some form, every film he’s directed so far has been nominated for at least one Oscar, with some even winning.
Yes, the director of Whiplash, La La Land, and First man, brings his skills to this bombastic look at early Hollywood, before anyone was expected to talk. The parties were legendary, the rules on set were non existent, and if you could make it there… you’d make it anywhere.
The narrative mostly follows Diego Calva as a young man just getting his start in Hollywood. He doesn’t want to be on screen talent, but he wants to make movies in some capacity. As he continues to work his way up the ladder, his tale is paralleled by Margot Robbie as a fresh faced hopeful who will do quite literally anything to put herself on top. And on the other side is Brad Pitt as someone already on top, who is about to realize that the talkies will mean he actually needs to be able to act.
The ensemble is packed with talent, Jean Smart being a stand out as a Hedda hopper type. But, for me, I loved the times Chazelle got in close with the early days of Hollywood. Actually being on set. There’s a scene here with Margot Robbie at the beginning of the talkies, where quiet on set just doesn’t cover it. That’s one of my favorite scenes of the year.
But, Chazelle casts a wide net, and other supporting characters float in and out, drugs and alcohol flow, and Babylon has a tendency to be a loud mess at times. Through it all, the actors are always on point, but there’s no reason for this runtime, as it likely is just a result of Chazelle being given keys to the kingdom, which won’t happen next time. He’ll have to work within a much smaller budget.
Margot Robbie will break your heart. Brad Pitt will break your heart. But both of those hinge on you surviving three hours. And, Justin Horowitz’s aggressive score isn’t helping. it’s some beautifully written music, and I don’t want to take that away from him, but Chazelle uses it almost like it’s a character in the film. When he has nothing to say, he just lets Horowitz turn up the volume, and he generally resorts to an overblown cacophony, thinking that his audience is seeking some kind of early Hollywood Gomorrah tale.
Perhaps, this will be a classic as we look back on it 20 years from now. I doubt it. it does have its merits, but I’m a lot less excited to see the next Damien Chazelle film.
As far as the audio description goes, this is one of the best of the year. Sometimes, in his “kitchen sink” scenes, there are so many things going on, I’m sure the audio description team didn’t know where to start. But, by God, they really crammed so much information in there. From the loud parties where everyone is doing different things, to something simple like Robbie being asked to shed just one tear for a scene, the audio description here deserves an award. We would be lost without it.
I like Babylon for the parts where I really liked it, but a little like Blonde, it’s a really long mess, if I’m being honest. But, also like Blonde, the acting is superb.
Final Grade: B-