Movie Review: Babylon (2022)

Stinging in the reign over his cinematic kingdom, “provoc-auteur” Damien Chazelle delivers his famed hometown of synthetic dreams a tart tragicomic valentine box filled with live grenades in the audacious multi-character drama Babylon (B+). This is a movie so singular and sprawling, with so much budget spent on bodily fluids and bacchanalia, that it’s bound to attract polarizing reactions. A trio of Tinseltown’s talkie-era troubadours – an old guard swashbuckler played by Brad Pitt and up-and-comers Margot Robbie and Diego Calva as a starlet and studio gatekeeper, respectively – chews and gets chewed up by the scenery in this occasionally bloated but most often blissful circus maximalist. It’s so completely overstuffed that at one point nobody realizes the elephant in the room is a literal pachyderm. Chazelle creatively crafts an amped-up Wild West moviemaking fantasia and whisks viewers up into an absurdist mile-a-minute travelogue through the underbelly of a mad, mad dreamworld; just when you think he’s dug deep into the city’s noxious center, you recognize he’s just getting started. The voyeuristic whirling-dervish of the camera consistently discovers playful details in its panoramic production designs, finding whimsy even in some of the film’s most uneven passages. Through the slyly observant lens of a filmmaker with lots on his mind, this full and frantic epic wields its poison pen with a brass band syncopation boldly matched by a jazz-infused Justin Hurwitz score . The anachronistic screenwriting about the haves and have nots is hit or miss, but memorable monologues glide like a heat-seeking missile to the luminous Robbie who delivers a spectacular supernova of an unhinged performance. Pitt and Calva are also standout gems at either end of the cynicism spectrum in a crackling ensemble. The film’s more than three hours of running time highlights the evolution of its characters from fresh celebrity flesh to jaded stars with scars. The film’s rumination on the origins of a sometimes scandalous art form is sexy, shrill and everything in between and ultimately holds up its sparkling mirror ball to reflect a bit about that Hollywood flicker that has become resident in all of our collective aspirations.

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