Robbie Is Alluring In Chazelle’s Glitzy, Hollow Ode To Hollywood

Feb 6, 2023

Home Movie Reviews Babylon Review: Robbie Is Alluring In Chazelle’s Glitzy, Hollow Ode To Hollywood

It has a feverish energy that gets lost amid the reverie, and though it has a great cast, it takes too long to make a point as it meanders to its end.

Babylon is decadent, beautiful to look at, but empty. It’s an ode to Hollywood that gets lost in its messiness, lacking a tightly written screenplay that would have otherwise brought everything together. At over three hours long, Babylon — written and directed by Damien Chazelle, who made waves with La La Land — is entirely too bloated, chaotic, and hollow to be considered good. It has a buzzing, feverish energy that gets lost amid the reverie, and though it has a great cast, it takes too long to make a point as it meanders to its end.

Set over two decades that begins in 1926, Babylon follows a plethora of characters as the film industry transitions from silent movies to sound. Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) is an aspiring actress who makes it big as a silent film star, but struggles as Hollywood changes around her; Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) is a famous silent film actor who is reaching the end of his era, and has a hard time letting go; Manny Torres (Diego Calva) is a film assistant who becomes a successful film producer; Elinor St. John (Jean Smart) is a renowned gossip columnist who writes about the ups and downs of Hollywood’s most famous; and Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) is a jazz trumpet player who dreams of doing more than playing at parties. The characters face their fair share of trials and tribulations as everything they know begins to shift.

Related: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie & Diego Calva Interview: Babylon

Brad Pitt and Diego Calva in Babylon

Babylon is ultimately the kind of film that believes it’s doing something profound when it isn’t. It’s wrapped in splendor, but it’s achingly shallow at its core. It’s easy to be distracted by the glitz and glamour that make up nearly every frame, but Chazelle’s incapable of properly developing his characters beyond the thin writing that makes up their onscreen journeys. Babylon underwhelms despite its razzle-dazzle approach, which could have easily distracted from the paper-thin story beneath. The film’s lengthy runtime doesn’t help disguise a lack of cohesiveness within the story, drawing out the events to the detriment of the film.

There is indeed something to be said about the way in which Hollywood can uplift someone’s career before tearing them down when things change, forgetting any of these people existed even while their impact remains in some way. That the film industry, as it evolves, produces art that forever leaves a mark, even as actors, producers, and directors come and go like waves on a beach, is a thoughtful assessment, but Babylon doesn’t dig deep enough, failing to explore the layers and nuance of such a statement.

Chazelle’s film is rather bombastic, though it holds significant moments that rise above its over-the-top execution. It’s certainly style over substance here, and Babylon doesn’t stand a chance at saving any of its flimsy storylines, the characters’ inner lives too haphazardly thrown together to be cohesive. Babylon’s opening party sequence has flair and one hell of an entrance from Margot Robbie, but the rest of the film never reaches the promise the scene sets up for each of its characters. The cast puts in an effort to uplift their characters, adding a bit more depth to them than the script allows.

This is especially true of Margot Robbie and Diego Calva, who each offer some nuance in their portrayals. Robbie conveys Nellie’s dreaminess and spunk, while also showcasing the fear and frustration that begin to take over as her career takes a turn. Calva, meanwhile, embodies Manny’s eager assistant who takes every opportunity afforded him to build a legacy he hopes will last. There is a lot of underdeveloped longing built into Calva’s character, but he manages to make it believable even if it’s underwritten.

The rest of the cast is solid, though the characters are all weakened because of Babylon’s focus on grandeur above all else. There is simply too much sparkle, and the film nearly drowns in it. The characters are largely sidelined in a film that is essentially a dazzling void. The gorgeous cinematography and costumes can’t make up for its emptiness — both in what it’s trying to say and in the way it’s trying to say it.

More: Jovan Adepo & Li Jun Li Interview: Babylon

Babylon releases in theaters Friday, December 23. The film is 188 minutes long and rated R for strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity, bloody violence, drug use, and pervasive language.

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