Damien Chazelle works up quite the cinematic lather in his magnum opus, a decade and a half in the making, spanning the Silent Era, circa 1926 to the talkies, and beyond.
Babylon has some one-hundred speaking parts in an ambitious cautionary tale that ultimately proves more elevating than exhilarating. It’s a febrile dramedy that eventually calms down to a degree as many cineastes are reminded of The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge and Singing In The Rain just to name a few.
The director of Whiplash and La La Land has bona fide stars in Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie who help drive what can be a mad, mean and dark bacchanal that begins with a very unsettled pachyderm in the Hollywood Hills.
The excess of an early Golden Age can be erotic and nasty with Robbie’s New Jersey Nellie a vamping, rambunctious spin on wannabe starlets, maybe a cousin of sorts to her Harley Quinn. Pitt’s Jack Conrad exudes the suave and frustration of an esteemed imbibing actor who sees the direction a ruthless industry. Diego Calva tries to instill a wide-eyed allure into low-level player Manny who gratis up the Hollywood ladder.
At times you might admire the outsized, demented electricity that Chazelle puts into many a frame to elucidate swirling bombast abetted with blaring jazz riffs. It’s a love-hate relationship that drives what is bigoted, narcotic, and abusive with many auxiliary characters. Joyan Adepo fills out a black trumpeter, Li Jun Li a lesbian Chinese songstress, Jean Smart a droll, influential gossip columnist, and Tobey Maguire in wild criminally and make up far removed from Nick in the Hamptons of Baz Luhman’s Gatsby.
The affection towards movies (as represented through Manny) and the antithesis towards Tinsel Town does reflect the discordancy within an aura of sweet adoration the boldly draws on archetypes. In its decadency Babylon indulges with the fashion of a bygone, if nostalgic era to relate to own maniacal, overloaded magic with inside giddiness, even through a sick serpent encounter.