Babylon has been written and directed by Damien Chazelle, director of Whiplash and La La Land. I actually quite liked La La Land despite its flaws, and Chazelle did receive Best Director for that film so he is an accomplished director. He was also later involved in the Best Picture debacle that night of the Oscars – but I’d rather not hold that against him since it wasn’t his fault and I’m sure even he wants to forget about that.
Babylon has been thrown tons of marketing in terms of adverts – I was seeing the trailer constantly! I think Paramount might have gotten a bit sceptical about its possibility of winning any Oscars considering it hasn’t done well in award season so far. In fact, it was probably put out in January so that it has less competition. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if a film is being released in UK and US in January it’s because the studio has no confidence in the project.
This film, though, does come with a top-class director and a huge all-star cast. Particularly actors like Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Olivia Wilde, and Diego Calva – it’s an excellent cast list.
I won’t delve much into the plot of this movie and it’s not to avoid spoilers – it’s because there isn’t much plot to the movie. It’s basically about a few people trying to get into the film industry or thrive in it. You have an up-and-coming star who wants to get into the business big time, Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), Manny Torres (Diego Calva) who isn’t an actor but wants to get into the industry in any way possible, a silent film megastar Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), and a Jazz trumpeter Sydney Palmer (Jovan Adepo).
The film really focuses a large portion of its runtime on the transition from silent movies to when films gained sound and the stars that could make the transition vs. the ones that couldn’t. If that sounds like Singing in the Rain to you, then that’s intentional! The film is a massive homage to that film in several places. Margot Robbie’s character has a fake Jersey accent, she has a sequence where she is trying to get a more posh and upper-class voice (which happened to a lot of stars at the time – Carrie Fisher, for example, said that she altered her voice for several roles). The film goes even further with the homages; there are a few sequences that are using the songs and clips from Singing in the Rain in the movie! If your film isn’t that good, don’t try to give too much attention to better films that we could be watching instead!
Long and short of it is, I don’t like Babylon. Like.. at all. Babylon is another one of these really pretentious films about the film industry that go on about how amazing it is and how deep actors are in a way that I just don’t enjoy.
Babylon was sort of similar to the Cohen Brother’s film Hail Cesar, which itself did a lot of massive homages to Ben-Hur, but Babylon feels like it did that on turbo charge without fixing any of the problems. It really comes off as self-entitled, and I’m seeing a bunch of these films come out about the history of cinema and it just comes off as pretentious. I like fiction that acknowledges and celebrates the history of its craft, but the reality is that you have to make it a bit more subtle than this.
For example, there’s a pretty good anime called SHIROBAKO about the behind-the-scenes of anime production, and it does celebrate many factors of the anime industry, but in that case, they’re rather subtle and they don’t go on about how important the industry is. The homages to history are really subtle, one of the characters even visits the studio that used to make her favourite childhood anime.
It’s not as if that’s one of Babylon’s biggest faults. It is definitely an Oscar-winning formula to make a film about actors and how hard it is to be one, considering that a large portion of the Academy is made up of actors. You get a position in the Academy if you win an Oscar by default. But it’s getting really tiresome.
There’s a conversation towards the end of the film between Brad Pitt’s character and a gossip columnist played by Jean Smart which was incredibly contradictory and up its own arse, but Babylon’s biggest problem is the fact that it’s incredibly plotless. It’s going moment to moment without a plotline. The film does take place over about ten years, and each of the characters is going through different problems, reviving careers, denial about losing careers, etc.
There are some good moments that are quite funny- the film shot scene with Margot Robbie was one of the funniest moments of the film, but they just don’t save the film- and it doesn’t help the fact that this film is THREE HOURS LONG! It doesn’t know when to cut and it never knows when to end! The end is so long and it has no right to be. I despise the fact that there are so many moments that should have been cut and they just didn’t cut it! By the time it got to the last five or ten minutes of the film, I was struggling not to yell at the cinema screen, “End! END, you pile of crap! End!!”. This film was one of the most exhausting experiences that I’ve gone through in recent memory. I can handle a three-hour film, but not when it’s this pretentious and plotless!
I never felt like the film was that genuine. My favourite part was probably the cameo from Tobey Macguire, who seems to be the only person who knows exactly what film he’s in and hams it up completely.
The debauchery that’s in this film is a bit too much for me. I’m not a prude, but the early party that is in all of the trailers made me hate all of the characters early on since everyone acts like complete idiots, and it felt like being stuck at a party with people that you don’t like but you can’t go home because the person that is giving you a lift got talking to someone I didn’t like and insists on ending the conversation on a good note which will take at least an hour.
Here’s a word of advice: if you’re going to take any food to the cinema to see this, eat before the film goes on – the first scene involves an elephant defecating on the camera (I’m not making this up) and the scene directly after includes someone pissing on someone. You have been warned. A lot of aspects of this film are just gratuitous. I do not understand why they included the snake fight – there’s a lot of pointless gratuitous fluff.
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