Babylon (2022) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Excessive to the extreme

Damien Chazelle’s latest film “Babylon” is a relentlessly excessive piece of work which quickly made me feel distant and exhausted even before its first hour passed. While I appreciated some admirable efforts from its crew and cast members shown from the film, I got disinterested more and more as enduring one excessive moment to another during its 189-minute running time, and I came to observe its story and characters without much care or attention.

The main subject of the movie surely draws the attention of any serious moviegoer. Mainly revolving around several different figures working in Hollywood during the late 1920s, the movie attempts an irreverent show business drama about how things were quickly changed for everyone in the town as sound films replaced silent movies during that time, and its story surely feels like a darker and seedier version of what is so joyfully and optimistically presented in “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952). As a matter of fact, the titular musical number of that great musical film appears twice in the film, and that certainly reflects what Chazelle tries to attempt here.

However, Chazelle does not succeed much right from the beginning. Like his previous film “La La Land” (2016), “Babylon” gives us a striking opening sequence to set its overall tone, but, boy, this sequence, which is mainly unfolded inside the mansion of a rich and influential Hollywood mogul, goes on and on with lots of excessive moments to numb you to the end. As the camera of cinematographer Linus Sandgren frantically moves around here and there as everyone inside the mansion is heedlessly enjoying their big evening party, the boisterously jazzy music by Justin Hurwitz attacks our eardrum with no mercy, and you may already get quite dizzy and tired even before the title of the movie finally appears on the screen.

In case of Manny Torres (Diego Calva), he does not have much fun unlike many others around him because, well, he is just an employee to take care of any trouble during the party. He has actually aspired to enter the movie business someday, but that dream of his still seems to be out of his reach, and then he comes across Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), a wild and free-spirited lass who has been eager to have lots of fun in Hollywood in addition to becoming a big movie star someday. As they have some private time later in a little isolated place in the mansion, they share their respective hopes and dreams, and Nellie is certainly thrilled when she later happens to get a chance to act in front of the camera at last.

While Nellie subsequently rises to her stardom within a short time, Manny comes to assist Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), who is incidentally one of the biggest star actors in Hollywood. When Conrad and the crew members of his latest film have a serious technical problem at one point, Manny willingly goes all the way for solving that big problem, and he soon finds himself more involved with movie business as days go by.

Things look optimistic for both Manny and Nellie for a while, but there soon comes a big industrial change via the introduction of sound film, which is boosted further by the considerable success of “The Jazz Singer” (1927). While everyone in the town seems to be ready for this huge change, it gradually turns out that not all of them can move onto the era of sound film, and that fact becomes quite painful to Conrad, who has to accept that his old star quality is quickly dissipated once he talks on the screen.

In case of Nellie, she falls much harder as miserably failing to adapt herself to the ongoing new trend, and she also makes herself quite miserable to Manny’s dismay. No matter how much he tries to recover her ruined career, she frequently lets down herself as well as Manny, and there eventually comes a point where Manny gets himself involved in a very serious trouble thanks to her.

However, the movie fails to engage us as constantly indulging in its excessive style instead of focusing more on story and characters. While Conrad’s narrative has some pathos, the depiction of the rocky relationship between Manny and Nellie often feels contrived, and their story eventually fizzles without much dramatic impact in the end. In case of the two main colored characters respectively played by Jovan Adepo and Li Jun Li, the movie delves a bit into their racism problems, but both of them only end up being no more than mere parts of the background, and Adepo and Li are considerably wasted as a result.

Diego Calva, Margot Robbie, and Brad Pitt do try with their broad characters as much as possible, but the result is mostly mixed to our disappointment. While Pitt effortlessly slips into his role, Robbie is unfortunately demanded to do shrill overacting throughout the movie, and Calva acquits himself fairy well although his character is rather bland in my trivial opinion. In case of several other notable cast members including Max Minghella, Katherine Waterston, Tobey Maguire, Flea, Eric Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Samara Weaving, Olivia Wilde, Patrick Fugit, and Spike Jonze, most of them simply come and go without much impression, and the special mention goes to Jean Smart, who often steals the show as a cynical Hollywood gossip columnist.

In conclusion, “Babylon” is not entirely without fun and entertainment, but it is a major letdown compared to Chazelle’s more entertaining works. I know that some critics and audiences are quite enthusiastic about the film, but it is too excessive and shallow for me, and I also do not like its sentimental epilogue much, which is incidentally another self-indulgent moment in the movie. Yes, it is nice to be reminded of how wonderful it is to watch a movie along with many others in big theater, but, folks, that will probably not wash away what you will have to endure before that.

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1 Response to Babylon (2022) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Excessive to the extreme

  1. Pingback: My Prediction on the 95th Academy Awards | Seongyong's Private Place

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