Combustible Celluloid Review - Babylon (2022), Damien Chazelle, Damien Chazelle, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, Tobey Maguire, Lukas Haas, Max Minghella, Samara Weaving, Olivia Wilde, Spike Jonze, Katherine Waterston, Flea, Jeff Garlin, Olivia Hamilton, P. J. Byrne, Rory Scovel, Eric Roberts, Telvin Griffin, Chloe Fineman, Phoebe Tonkin, Troy Metcalf, Jennifer Grant, Patrick Fugit, Pat Skipper, Ethan Suplee, Kaia Gerber, Cyrus Hobbi, Marc Platt
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With: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, Tobey Maguire, Lukas Haas, Max Minghella, Samara Weaving, Olivia Wilde, Spike Jonze, Katherine Waterston, Flea, Jeff Garlin, Olivia Hamilton, P. J. Byrne, Rory Scovel, Eric Roberts, Telvin Griffin, Chloe Fineman, Phoebe Tonkin, Troy Metcalf, Jennifer Grant, Patrick Fugit, Pat Skipper, Ethan Suplee, Kaia Gerber, Cyrus Hobbi, Marc Platt
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
MPAA Rating: R for strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity, bloody violence, drug use, and pervasive language
Running Time: 189
Date: 12/23/2022
IMDB

Babylon (2022)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Thin-sel Town

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Damien Chazelle's fourth feature shows a continuing decline for a filmmaker that was perhaps too quickly celebrated, and is now searching for ways to go big and be noticed again. Babylon is a monster, over three hours long and unabashedly rated "R." The opening sequence has an elephant defecating all over a man. That scene is quickly followed by an orgy, the camera tracking smoothly through the party, glimpsing sex and drugs and dancing; the camera itself appears to be working the room. It goes on for a while, and there's an undeniable energy. Chazelle is celebrating the Wild West of moviemaking, where there were no rules.

Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) has crashed the party; she's nobody, yet, but she knows she's a star. She meets Manny (Diego Calva), a glorified servant; it was his job to secure the elephant for the party. Also there is Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), who is perhaps the biggest star of this age, the mid-1920s. After Manny is tasked to get a drunk Jack home, he wins a job on a movie set the next day. This is another long, busy sequence, also celebrating the anarchy of the early days of moviemaking. Robbie has a great grace-under-pressure sequence in which she shows her character's acting chops, and Manny saves the day with a harrowing, race-against-time attempt to track down a new camera after a manic director (a funny Spike Jonze) breaks the first ten.

Then The Jazz Singer comes and everyone converts to sound, and we have one more bravura sequence showing the agonizing setbacks of the new medium, so tense it'll make you sweat. That puts us at about the halfway point, and the rest of Babylon is a long, slow decline, a slog to the point that you'll want to slump in your seat and avert your gaze into your popcorn bucket. It's basically the story of Singin' in the Rain, inflated and with all the fun and humor stripped away. And yet, how does Chazelle close his movie? By showing an aged Manny going to see Singin' in the Rain and being moved to tears by it.

This is followed by an Oscar-clip-style montage of "great" movie moments (that somehow includes both Tron and Avatar). What are we supposed to make of all this? Is Babylon a more realistic re-working of Singin' in the Rain? Does it propose to be an improvement? Or is it the director attempting an all-too knowing work of hubris? Either way, whatever amazements the movie offers initially are ground down into weariness. It's a chore.

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