A tale of outsized ambition and outrageous excess, it traces the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood. -Tagline
Aging actor Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) is based on John Gilbert, a leading MGM star of the 1920s. He had a soft voice and dashing on-screen persona which didn’t match up w/ talkies. As his starring roles became few, Gilbert developed a drinking problem and died from a heart attack in 1936 (just aged 38). Gilbert’s story also inspired the screenplay for Singin’ in the Rain (1952). Emma Stone was originally cast in the role of ingenue Nellie LaRoy, which was announced to be based on Clara Bow, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts after the production was delayed b/c of COVID. After Margot Robbie replaced Stone, the role become more fictional in nature. Olivia Hamilton’s character is based on Dorothy Arzner, one of the 1st female directors in early Hollywood, and the inventor of the boom mic. (FYI: Hamilton is also the wife of the writer/director, Damien Chazelle).
WTF did I see!? OMG, that is 3 hrs. 9 mins. that I’ll never get back! As this came from the mind of Chazelle, I didn’t have high hopes; I wasn’t a fan of La La Land (and haven’t seen his other work). He was given $80M to make the movie- wow! The opening (coke-fueled/orgy-like party) sequence is over 30 mins. long. Warning: If you’re more of a sensitive viewer (or consider yourself squeamish), avoid this movie! Several critics commented that there are maybe 3 great scenes- NOT a harsh assessment.
This movie boasts a large/diverse cast, but two of the most interesting characters, the Black trumpeter Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) and Chinese-American writer/singer Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li), could’ve been developed much more. In the early days, the movies were NOT considered classy/respectable; POC, women, and queer individuals played various parts (behind and in front of the camera). Pitt is phoning it in; he did better in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Robbie can tackle what she is given; she got to show her stuff on Nellie’s 1st day on set and the (stressful) 1st day making a talkie. The audience surrogate is the young/ambitious Manny Torres (Hollywood newbie/Spanish actor) Diego Calva. I learned that Calva has a big role in the Netflix series Narcos: Mexico. (I’m finishing up S1 of Narcos co-starring Pedro Pascal). Things just happen to Manny; he doesn’t get much character development. In the 3rd act, Tobey Maguire pops up; he plays a (cartoonish) rich/evil/villain. (FYI: He’s one of the movie’s producers.)
Is there anything I was impressed by here? Yes, Jean Smart does a terrific job (as usual); her gossip column writer and Pitt have on of the best scenes. The production design (Oscar-nominated) is great; the audience is taken into the (wild/crazy) past of early Hollywood. The cinematography (esp. in the early war/epic scene) is beautiful. The (jazzy) soundtrack suits the action; it was composed by Chazelle’s friend/former college roomie- Justin Hurwitz. This is one of the (many) cases of style over substance and self-indulgence (by the filmmakers) common in modern entertainment. Don’t watch it, b/c you MAY get mad at yourself!
One thought on “#Oscars: “Babylon” (2022) starring Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, & Li Jun Li”
I didn’t hate myself, but I agree it was WAY too long and arguably too roman à clef-y, and I kept thinking “I’ve seen this film before” (Singin’ in the Rain). You noted the things I liked about it (production design, the long sequence where they are filming in the middle of nowhere, the music). I would add that the very first part up till the end of the crazy party was visually interesting. I also thought Calva was interesting — I looked forward to his scenes — although I thought there was something cynical about that (a supporting actor who they needed to get cheap b/c of all of the big names in the film). I did not need the whole sequence with the rat / freak show in the subterranean location; uch. Like you I am not a Chazelle fan, but I’m relieved that Emma Stone didn’t do it — that would have made it unbearable. I continue to be generally uninterested in Brad Pitt.
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