Babylon (2022) Review: Could This Be the Year’s Worst Film?

Babylon (2022) Review: Produced in the United States of America in 2022, Babylon is a comedy-drama epic film written and directed by Damien Chazelle. Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, and Li Jun Li are among the film's cast members. The plot follows several people as their fortunes grow and sink in the late 1920s when Hollywood was making the transition from silent to sound pictures.

In July 2019, Chazelle started working on the script for the film, and Lionsgate is currently in a pole position to acquire the picture. It was later revealed in November 2019 that Paramount Pictures had bought worldwide rights. The majority of the principal cast signed on between January 2020 and August 2021, while principal photography lasted from July through October of that same year in Los Angeles.

Critics were divided on the film's narrative, graphic violence, and length, although they commended the photography, score, and cast performances. It was nominated for nine awards at the 28th Critics' Choice Movie Awards, including Best Picture, and for five at the 80th Golden Globes, where it won for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

Paramount Pictures' Babylon had its world premiere in Los Angeles on December 15, 2022, and it opened in theatres across the United States on December 23, 2022.

Babylon (2022) Review

Inspired by some well-known anecdotes and further embellishing the apocryphal rumors and tales, Damien Chazelle returns to the realm of la la land where he first found success with a turbocharged but heavy-handed epic about the hidden chaos and excess of 1920s silent-era Hollywood on the brink of talkie extinction.

Unavoidably, it's a love letter to the cinema, yet I seem to recall Chazelle's earlier films being love letters to real people. There are foreshadowing allusions to “Singin' in the Rain,” and the piece culminates with a swoony-solemn montage of scenes from films as diverse as “Meshes of the Afternoon” (1960) by Maya Deren and “Terminator 2” (1991) by James Cameron, reminiscent of the Oscar presentation.

Babylon (2022) Review

Despite its many humorous moments, Babylon lacks the subtle romantic beauty and the believable human weakness of Chazelle's Oscar-winning La La Land, despite its many dramatic ones (although there are musical echoes of that earlier picture and the same message that jazz is where integrity is to be found in showbusiness).

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Chazelle fudges the recent #MeToo discourse about Hollywood's golden period, claiming that all the bawdy sex depicted is entirely voluntary. Chazelle is concerned with restoring some of the minorities who have been erased in Hollywood's history, and with being more truthful about the ugly truths.

In Babylon, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Tobey Maguire, and others mock Hollywood

Commentators have mentioned Kevin Brownlow, a silent film historian, and evangelist, in connection with this picture. However, the clear greater debt is to Kenneth Anger, author of Hollywood Babylon, and, frankly, much more so to Baz Luhrmann. The crazy party scenes are so reminiscent of Luhrmann's that he should be receiving a royalty check for including the required overhead shots of the ecstatically unclothed women crowd-surfing face-up.

The movie's chaos is filled with a cast of stereotypical characters. Jack Conrad, played by Brad Pitt, is a handsome, much-married leading actor of a certain age in the John Gilbert mold whose career is on the decline. (As I have said before and will say again, Pitt is the great lost cowboy actor of Hollywood thanks to his impenetrable hilarious drawl and rangy body; nonetheless, there are no oaters in this collection.)

Lady Fay Zhu, a homosexual club singer modeled by Anna May Wong, is played by the vivacious and fashion-forward Li Jun Li. In the wake of Al Jolson's triumph with The Jazz Singer, Jovan Adepo plays Sidney Palmer, a skilled African American jazz trumpeter who is finally granted some on-screen time in the talkies at the expense of racial “blackface” humiliation. Studio chief Irving Thalberg is a real person, and Max Minghella plays him.

Babylon (2022) Review

And most importantly, Margot Robbie as the obsessive, gambling-addicted wants to be star Nellie LaRoy. She dazzles everyone with her ability to cry on cue, but elocution lessons are in order from Elinor St. John (Jean Smart), a snooty Brit working a Henry Higgins side gig and a gossip hack in the vein of Hedda and Louella.

Diego Calva, a relative newcomer at the time, plays Manny Torres, a star-struck Mexican teenager who works on Jack's location shoot, rises through the ranks of the studio and secretly loves Nellie despite facing anti-Mexican bigotry because of his nationality.

Nellie, ever the daredevil, fights a rattlesnake in the desert after one of many orgiastic parties; this contest leads to a very sensual encounter with Lady Fay Zhu. This is just one of many fantastic scenes in the film. When Nellie has a speaking part in a cheery college-girl comedy, she excels; the director of photography will be sweating bullets in his soundproof “sweat box” enclosure due to her amazing performance.

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First and foremost, there's Manny's first real job in the movies, which entails wrestling an elephant and delivering it to a huge, opulent party where a crisis à la Roscoe Arbuckle is planned. After doing drugs and engaging in pervy activities with a young woman in a secluded room, one highly indulgent plutocrat becomes terrified as she loses consciousness.

Although the film skirts the subject of whether or not this made-up woman gets well, it doesn't deal with the issue of rape (which drove the real Arbuckle case, from which he was finally exonerated). In contrast to the real-life example of dancer Patricia Douglas, whose career was destroyed in 1937 after she accused a studio executive of rape at a party hosted by MGM president Louis B. Mayer, this scenario plays out differently.

Listeners had every right to speculate that the Nellie LeRoys of old Hollywood were victims of systematic abuse on the job, rather than just the quaintly imagined “gambling habit” popularised by the film.

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The film Babylon has large ideas, big goals, and enormous actions, but it only manages a medium level of emotional impact. It also has to force us to care about celluloid magic, an afterthought that should occur naturally. Even yet, it's always a treat to be around A-listers like Pitt and Robbie, and the movie's wacky, event-movie-style gimmickry ras its moments of comedy.


Rotten Tomatoes 55%
IMDb 7.7/10
Metacritic 59%