“Honey, you don’t become a star. You either are one, or you ain’t.”
Clocking in at 3h 9m, Damien Chazelle’s Babylon is as long as it is epic. With an overwhelmingly star-studded cast and a storyline that flips a typical Oscar bait movie on its head, I never expected a film about early Hollywood to be so captivating and modern in its narrative.
Babylon depicts as much of a deep love for Hollywood as it does a deep hatred, and it’s within this context that Chazelle is able to showcase something quite memorable. His skills as a talented director are utilized under a plethora of genres. As a dramedy, romance, and at times a horror film, Babylon isn’t something to be passed by during awards season. It’s a beast of a movie that reminds cinemagoers of why they loved going to the theaters in the first place.
Because award season is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, I think it’s best to start off with what I think will get nominated. For starters, I think Margot Robbie is 100% worthy of an Oscars nomination for her impeccable role as Nellie LaRoy. Oozing with personality from the very first second that she’s on screen, there is no denying Robbie’s sheer talent as one of the best actors of her generation. Considering the Barbie trailer that just dropped, it seems there’s no stopping Robbie and the incredible journey that her career is headed toward. Babylon is one of the best performances I’ve seen from her, matching the kind of star power that she exudes in other films like I, Tonya and Suicide Squad.
As for other Oscar nominations, Diego Calva gives such a convincing and moving performance as his character, Manny Torres. Babylon is really Manny’s story, using the lens of his character to unveil how Hollywood deteriorates the humanity of those inside its system. There are so many sides to Calva’s character, all culminating into the exploration of both the upsides and pitfalls of the Hollywood machine. His character arc is one of the greatest benefits to the long runtime, as the audience gets to see someone living their dreams in a way that turns them into part of the problem.
Other standouts include the film’s score, an enticing performance from Li Jun Li, and a phenomenal scene of dialogue between Jean Smart and Brad Pitt. Jun Li truly deserves more credit for her role as Lady Fay Zhu, representing the LGBTQ+ community in a way that is badass, fun, and impactful. Her character takes a backseat for the entire final act of the film, which is a major disservice to both the character and the film’s messaging. She is the only one robbed of screentime, as it felt like there was much more story to tell with Lady Fay Zhu’s background as a queer Asian woman in Hollywood. The character could have a film of her own, honestly, and it would be just as indulgent as the one we got.
It was delightful seeing Olivia Wilde and Samara Weaving during their brief cameos, with Wilde in particular delivering a hilarious scene about Italian accents. As for Jean Smart, her role is small but mighty. She delivers one of the best scenes of the film thanks to a fantastic script, acknowledging existential questions about aging, fame, and accepting one’s role in the world. It’s the most thought-provoking moment of Babylon, encapsulating how one feels when they realize that their time is running short. It’s the first scene where Chazelle starts to embrace the magic of cinema and how much of an impact it’s had on society as a medium. Even I was left wondering whether my time on planet Earth will be remembered or not.
Touching on topics of racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other disturbing elements of the early Hollywood monster that still exist to this day, Babylon expands upon the ugliest sides of the film industry in all of its shamefulness. While certain topics deserve more time with the audience, such as with the characters of Lady Fay Zhu and Jovan Adepo’s Sidney Palmer, it is quite heartbreaking to see how their characters slowly deteriorate from who they once were at the beginning of the film.
Before going to see Babylon for the holidays, it might be important to know that seeing the film with family is not recommended. Its content is definitely for mature audiences, right from the very beginning of the film. Babylon showcases almost every single kind of bodily fluid imaginable. Whether it be saliva, semen, urine, feces, vomit, or blood, Chazelle gives audiences a front row seat to the human condition in all its forms – for better and for worse. Babylon’s erotic, gory, and grotesque elements are not something everyone will be comfortable with, so step into the theater at one’s own discretion.
I cannot stress this enough, but the ending of Babylon is one of the most perfect endings to a film I’ve ever seen. Without giving too much away, Diego Calva’s character provides such an emotional climax to the movie. His character’s journey is only half of the reason why the ending works so well, as Chazelle’s creative direction is so distinctly unique in how it wraps up his thoughts about the film industry, early Hollywood’s trajectory into modern day, and the great power and impact that comes from filmmaking as a medium. I could not have asked for a better ending to the film, and the last 10 minutes of Babylon are something I cannot wait to revisit and watch again.
The movie’s only real weakness is its length, as the story takes a whopping three hours to finish its course. It feels like films have recently started increasing in length, and this can sometimes drain the overall experience of going to the theaters. If one is planning on seeing Babylon during the Christmas weekend, one has to carve out at least half of their day just to watch the film at the cinema. I felt the hours ticking by at some points, but it was never to a drastic extent. There are definitely some scenes from the movie, however, that I could have definitely done without in order to make the film feel like a tighter and more perfected package.
Not watching Babylon in theaters would be a missed opportunity. While the film is definitely for mature audiences only, it’s something I would recommend seeing before the holiday season is up. For film fanatics especially, one will get a kick out of how many early Hollywood references there are. Babylon is thought-provoking, emotionally gripping, deeply comedic, and highly entertaining all at once. For a breathtaking final scene and some stellar performances by Margot Robbie and Diego Calva, the film closes out 2022 as one of the year’s best entries.
★ ★ ★ ★
Babylon will be in theaters everywhere December 23.