BABYLON is a Party for the Senses
Well, I know I'm late to the party, and boy what a party it was! Damien Chazelle's latest film, Babylon, is nothing short of spectacular. The film is an exercise in excess, while still remaining coherent enough to relay its themes and pathos. Chazelle takes Old Hollywood and rips it apart - for our enjoyment. Babylon predominantly centers around the late 1920s, early 1930s when Hollywood was making the shift from silent films into "talkies." It gives us three main character studies who are all ultimately effected by this historical movie-making transition. Brad Pitt portrays the most famous silent star, Jack Conrad. Pitt gives an immensely charming, often tragic performance that oozes not only top-notch humor, but at times bleak reflection. Margot Robbie is Nellie LaRoy, an aspiring actress who gets her big break during the silent era for essentially being a "natural born star," and we also get the sense that her looks and allure didn't hurt either - right place, right time perhaps. And, finally newcomer Diego Calva plays Manny Torres, and this is the performance which is arguably the film's nucleus. Most of the side characters, and certainly Jack and Nellie's direct storylines revolve around Manny in some way. All three of these performances are among some of the best of the year, and I could easily see any or all of them receiving Oscar nominations come next week.
However, the only problem may be the overall reception of the film. At last check, it was only sporting a 53% on Rotten Tomatoes. Here is what I will say, there are a lot of shocking and perhaps ill-advised choices made in the script and by Chazelle with the camera, but that was what I loved about it. He swung for it as hard as he could, and by God if this isn't a home run, in my opinion. There are scenes in Babylon that are literally unforgettable. Without spoiling any, but to appease those who have seen it - I'll mention scenes such as the day on the silent film production lot with multiple movies going on since sound wasn't a factor at the time. Or perhaps Nellie's scene "at college" where she sees the scope of sound's impact on film for the first time. Or what about Jack's moment with Elinor (played wonderfully by Jean Smart) when he looks back on his life and career, and realizes that all good things must end.
Aside from the brazen style of filmmaking on Chazelle's part, and these brilliant performances that anchor the film, Babylon also sports some of the best technical achievements of the year including production design, costme/makeup, editing and BY GOD Just Hurwitz's score just rocketed to my #1 of the year! At the end of the day, Babylon won't be for everyone - in fact it won't be for MOST people. But, there is something profound that Chazelle is trying to say here. It has to do with his place in Hollywood and frankly, Hollywood history. While for some, that may seem a bit pretentious or overzealous. For me, it is just a fabulous example of an artist working through his own shit in the best way he can - by creating.
🍿 SCORE = 91 🍿 *score is out of 100