Babylon Review

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Babylon is a film that seldom combines romance and disgust in one instance. Damien Chazelle’s palpable passion, sometimes overwhelming tribute to the grand cinema wonder of the pioneering studio era contains at least four types of body fluids (three of which are fluently flashed on the screen for 45 minutes opening), and litters gems of sex acts like candies. An elephant exploding from its rectum replaces each tear trickling down Margot Robbie’s unchanging face. It is a visceral, mesmerizing drama that never ceases to sway all through the movie’s three-hour plus.

Chazelle quickly sets his rhythm as he throws us into a 35 minute romp round a hot Hollywood party containing rippling dancers, jazz music being played live, and an Aladdin’s cave full of crack cocaine. The aspiring actress Nellie (Robbie) has snuck in by the puppy-eyed industry rookie Manny (Diego Calva). One single actor Jack (Brad Pitt) who is recently out of love holds prominence among many others present there. A triumphantly set piece; a non-stop moving mardi gras with Robbie flinging around everywhere at the center like some kind of red spinning top with long random arms. It will leave you staggered after it has just spun you round once more into dust before settling down. However, as the next day arrives, this dust has not yet settled before they make their way to an enormous and violent film set in the desert where Nellie makes her debut dancing scene and Jack enlists Manny to assist him in making some grand battlefield-set romance. This is probably the most enjoyable part of Babylon since Chazelle takes pleasure in every aspect related to production ranging from sweaty temple directors across multiple shots to those barren sandy landscapes laden with exhausted extras.

Robbie was impressively sporty as Nellie whether she was wrestling snakes or poorly on leaving an upper-class social gathering. However, her character is mostly that of Harley Quinn in Hollywood 20s, mad and ecstatic which makes Nellie’s more emotionally demanding parts to fall rather short. A similar problem arises from awkward talk: an exchange between the talented Jean Smart as a veteran gossip columnist and Jack post-peak reduces itself into saccharine nonsense concerning ghosts, angels, and celluloid’s timeless appeal.

Chazelle expects his audience to be as obsessed with cinema as he is but it is not entirely clear what it means. The film strays off course when Manny goes down a filthy rabbit-hole with creepy James (Tobey Maguire performing excellently), portraying marginalized performers as monstrous freaks without any celebratory or comedic undercurrents. Furthermore, the queer performer played by Li-Jun Li and Jovan Adepo’s character who starts out as a session musician before transitioning onto the silver screen are overshadowed by the movie’s constant messaging about how powerful films are.

Is Chazelle making a great movie? It has certainly made an indelible one. The set-pieces are amazing: the humor acerbic and audacious; even amidst confusion there remains authority over an ensemble cast that is formidable. Its ambitions cannot be denied. Yet for all its showiness, whatever it wants to tell us about movies gets lost in its own decibels.

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