The Stream: A 3-hour runtime for a movie that is constantly searching for a plot
The Big Screen: There is always something dynamic to look at throughout this 3-hour epic
The Final Bill: 3-hours may be too long for a Singin’ in the Rain homage, but it’s ambitious– Trip Fontaine
Director: Damien Chazelle
Writers: Damien Chazelle
Stars: Diego Calva, Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li
Genre: Comedy, Drama, History
Rating: R for strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity, bloody violence, drug use, and pervasive language.
Runtime: 3 hours
Production Companies: Paramount Pictures, C2 Motion Picture Group, Marc Platt Productions, Material Pictures, Organism Pictures, Wild Chickens Productions
Platform: In theaters on December 23, 2022
Notable Trailers: Women Talking, Cocaine Bear, Scream VI, 80 for Brady, Magic Mike’s Last Dance
Happy New Year, Streamers! I’m wrapping up 2022 with a review of the epic movie about Hollywood’s silent era, Babylon from Academy-Award-winning director, Damien Chazelle (La La Land). Yes, like many other December releases, this movie is poised to be an awards contender. It has a big budget and bona fide pedigree from the likes of Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie. What’s not to be excited about? Oh, yeah, a 3-hour runtime… Here we go.
Damien Chazelle directed and wrote the screenplay for Babylon. It is a film set in the mid-1920s about the transition in Hollywood from the silent movie era to pictures with sound, “the Talkies.” The movie centers on three characters at different places in their Hollywood careers. There’s Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), who is a big star in silent movies. Jack has a new wife every other year, drinks hard on set, but he can get a movie made with just his word. Will Jack’s stature continue once the movies have sound? There’s Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie). She’s a hard-partying, wannabe actress, who lucks into a bit part in a silent movie but she’s born to be a star. Finally, there’s Manny Torres (Diego Calva), who is a Mexican immigrant that just wants to be on set. Again, a little luck and tenacity play into his story as well. There are other characters that drift in and out of the orbit of Jack, Nellie and Manny. Sex, drug, and jazz ensue.
Babylon is a lot of movie. Of course, it is 3-hours long – can I say that again, but even with that runtime, there is so much going on at all times. It is relentless almost from moment one and so much so that the title card doesn’t even appear until 30 minutes into the movie. The film is so mired in the excess of old Hollywood that it becomes overwhelming. In the first 30 minutes, there’s an elephant pooping on a guy, a prostitute peeing on a dude, a drug overdose, and basically a jazz orgy. All of that would be fine if it were in service of an actual story, but the story is so basic and an obvious homage to Singin’ in the Rain that it’s almost confusing. The movie is so consumed with the excess of the details as if the camera has ADHD that it forgets to follow an interesting plot.
The details are nice though. The costumes are fun to look at and they enhance the characters. The production design is so amazing as the movie flits from the different sets throughout. There is one great set-piece where the camera pans across a lot where multiple silent films are being shot at once. There is so much going on that it can get exhausting. There is also great music throughout, but there is also so much yelling. I can’t believe Margot Robbie still has a voice after she yells constantly through this movie. I can’t say that the movie isn’t entertaining because there is almost always something going on, but I just wonder what’s the point of it all.
Ultimately, Babylon is an ambitious, 3-hour epic. It has a lot of top-notch crafts here, especially the production design. However, in its excess, the film forgets to tell a cohesive and interesting story. The plot is essentially that of Singin’ in the Rain but darker. If you want to spend 3 hours of your day in the theater, grab a bowl of popcorn because this movie gives you your money’s worth. It is a lot of movie despite the lack of a good plot.