Even the messiest of concoctions can turn out delicious, and Damien Chazelle’s latest film certainly comes close to a scrumptious dish.
Like his last film, awards golden child La La Land, Babylon is a unique period piece that combines music, a lavish production design, and A-list performances – particularly from downunder darling, Margot Robbie, in what’s unarguably her best ever performance.
Unlike La La, Babylon will not be as broadly appreciated by the masses, nor does it possess the rewatchability factor of cinema sibling Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, but it’s a story the acting industry will be pleased is being told.
A wild 3-hour ode to the actor, beginning in the ‘20s where decadence, depravity and excess ran supreme, fixes on three determined dreamers, all on the verge of having their fifteen minutes, whose idealized careers and lives come crashing down when the industry makes some dramatic changes – particularly in it’s transition from silent films to talkies.
A medley of ideas somewhat frantically sharing screen time, Babylon is as mesmerizing for its Frankenstein-ien like script as it is its wonderfully funky dance sequences, and the divine turns from leads, Brad Pitt, Diego Calva, and Robbie. The ‘messiness’ of the script, combined with its eccentricities and big dramaturgical parade, gives the film an odd Moulin Rouge meets Boogie Nights vibe that pushes out a couple of very sombre messages – largely, one about actors becoming more and more expendable as time goes on. It’s also very current for another reason – drumming home a message on today’s films, primarily that special effects-clad blockbusters are the one subgenre that can seemingly survive in a constantly changing marketplace.
This isn’t a typically straight story, that I’ve pointed out, but it’s also not a movie for the weak of stomach. Piling on the vomit, urine, elephant discharge, and other shockingly unexpected bits and pieces, Chapelle seems very intent on making jaws drop here — and not just for the costumes and choreography. This thing truly pushes boundaries at times.
It’s far from a perfect movie, it’s more fascinating than perfect in fact, but where Babylon succeeds is as a very interesting, extremely visual reminder of how much our industry has changed.
Also, Robbie is breathtakingly brilliant – she’s never been better.