Fool’s Gold

What was supposed to be a love letter to Hollywood, Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon” is a radiant, ravishing mess saved only by its cast

Fools+Gold

From fist fights with snakes to giant men swallowing rats whole, “Babylon” was a chaotic, disjointed, often disturbing mess of a movie. While there are some moments of beautiful filmmaking, the latest project from French-American director Damien Chazelle falls short compared to his other movies, such as “La La Land” and “Whiplash.” 

“Babylon” follows budding actress Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), Hispanic, up-and-coming movie executive Manny Torres (Diego Calva), and silent film icon Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), who meet at a Hollywood party in 1926, during the last days of the silent film era. The film details their journey to the peak of success in the silent film world and their struggles to stay on top with the introduction of talking films (“talkies”) in the 1930s. If this trio wants to continue making films, they must rise to the challenges and new expectations of Hollywood. “Babylon” depicts their fight to forge a legacy of art in a city that is only concerned with “the new.”

While this film does have numerous shortcomings, they are easier to overlook thanks to the star-studded cast. Strong performances by Brad Pitt, Jean Smart, and Margot Robbie–and a breakout performance by Diego Calva–kept me captivated throughout the film. This cast made viewers feel every moment of their successes and failures, and there is no question as to why they were nominated for Golden Globe awards in acting. Powerful moments between Pitt and Smart leave a lasting impression, and the chemistry between Robbie and Calva is undeniable. 

However, the connection between these characters could have been so much more meaningful if they were not overshadowed by the overly ambitious storyline that vacillated between wild parties, drug overdoses, and cage fighting to stunning reimaginings of 1920s Hollywood from both sides of the camera lens. The cinematography in this film is beautiful—carrying the essence of “La La Land” with vibrant shots that make you feel transported to old Los Angeles. It also had witty and engaging dialogue at times. But, unfortunately, these moments are intermingled with scenes that had viewers turning their heads in disgust. 

If some of these disturbing scenes were cut from this 189-minute movie, I would’ve enjoyed it.  But the over-the-top scenes featuring heavy drug use, lewd activity, graphic language, projectile vomiting and defecation just felt didn’t do anything to advance the plot of the film. Seeing the graphic overdoses of a young actress in the first 15 minutes or watching someone suck the venom out of a snake bit seemed only to be added for shock value.

For such a long movie, there is also a startling lack of character and plot development. Many characters are introduced and forgotten in the chaos of the plot. “Babylon” had the opportunity to delve into sapphic relationships of the era, but this storyline was forgotten in favor of more extravagant scenes. Chazelle also had the chance to explore the struggles of African Americans in the film industry, but this plotline is never fully fleshed out. At a certain point, the film was less about Hollywood’s transition to the “talkie” era and more about discovering new ways to shock the audience–all chaos, all nonsense. 

As a warning to younger viewers and families, “Babylon” is highly graphic and is rated R for a reason. The first 20 minutes of the film are filled with very visual depictions of sex and drug use. If you choose to watch this film, I recommend looking up trigger warnings for you and your family.

Better yet, if you are considering watching this movie, don’t. It left me feeling aggravated and dizzy due to the inconsistency of the plot and the graphic nature of the content. Save your money and watch something else. The fact that this film was nominated for a Golden Globe in the Best Picture category is shocking because I cannot believe anyone could watch this film and walk away thinking it was anything other than pandemonium.