1920’s Hollywood is known for its silent films and being one of many eras the film industry considers golden. It’s an era of intense opulence at the most ridiculous levels ever seen throughout humanity. An era where sexuality was free and wild, liquor flowed like canyon rivers and movie stars’ careers had yet been redefined by “talkies.”
Director Damien Chazelle, who brought us a modern day movie musical with LaLa Land, had audiences salivating for his follow up project. Chazelle took the decadence, depravity, and outrageous excess and laser focused it into the rise and fall of several ambitious dreamers navigating in super glamorized era of Hollywoodland.
We had the immigrant dreamer, Manny Torres (Diego Calva) who has aspiration of becoming a movie directing mogul, Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), the aspiring actress who desperately wants out of the background, Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), the charismatic movie star struggling with his personal and professional life and the exotic lesbian chanteuse Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li) who becomes a casualty of the times due to Hollywood’s racism and often stereotypical treatment of Asian actors or any actor of color looking for make a consistent living int he industry.
The nearly three hour long epic is gorgeously shot with unbelievable costume, hair, makeup and production design. Where the film seems to fall a bit short is not taking full advantage of exploring the Lady Fay plot beyond her singing about her lady parts and being impeccably dressed.
Babylon also begins a little too much in your face with the sexuality to make it’s point. Then, it rapidly segues into individual storylines leaving you wondering why Olivia Wilde has been reduced to an under five or why there isn’t more exploration around the women filmmakers kicking butt only to have their male counterparts taking credit. Not to mention, the glossed over moment regarding how trumpeteer, Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) is allowed very minimal onscreen prominence and having his dignity challenged running black cork over his face as to not look lighter than his bandmates.
As interesting as the storylines may be, these previous mentioned opportunities would’ve given Chazelle a film to be debated and discussed for decades to come. As it stands, the performances make the film fly by, especially from Diego Calva, who seems to be the only character fully fleshed out. Calva is in a class unto himself with his portrayal of Manny – proving that an immigrant dream can sometime become one’s own worst nightmare.
This will definitely be one of those films that will leave no grey area with folks expressing mostly black or white opinions. However, what unequivocally can’t be debated is that Damein Chazelle’s filmmaking is bold, groundbreaking and pushes boundaries with every single frame of his creativity and genius. And that my friends…is worth its weight in gold.