Debauchery. Sure, it exists and Hollywood runs the show. An all-star cast and wild, showy moments can’t save an overly-ambitious disjointed storyline in Babylon, starring Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, and Diego Calva. Writer/director Damien Chazelle’s over three-hour-long film is ultimately a colossal, over-done messy in which his stars flail around as drunken, narcissistic fools, with zero moral compasses. Of course, Babylon signifies wickedness and depravity and if that is Chazelle’s sole goal, he succeeds in creating an impious world of sex, greed, and jealousy.
From start to finish, Chazelle slaps viewers with a barrage of wanton images and scenes – assailing us with the sins of self-indulgence, envy, and sexual excitement. Gluttony is there, too, as is unbridled desire, and a blatant air of hubris and depravity. Calva stars as Manny Torres, a low-end film lackey, the first scene bringing an elephant to the set. He meets, Nelly LaRoy (Robby) and, through his connection with Jack Conrad (Pitt), manages to climb up in Hollywood. Conrad, an Errol Flynn type, drinks in excess, has multiple wives and jumps from role to role like a madman. LaRoy wants to make it huge in the movies, and with her “I’ll do anything” attitude and talent for forcing out tears, she beats out other actresses for roles. Manny wrangles these stars and manages to love Nelly and ride the craziness that was the 1920s in Hollywood.
The film speeds along at an amazing clip, on the screen and never slows down. It takes 30 minutes or more to get to the crux of the story, and not before an elephant relieves itself, characters projectile vomit, and clothes go flying. It’s like a raging frat party on steroids. It’s too much, in my opinion, and perhaps this is Chazelle’s point – to place his audience in the world as he believes it was during the advent of “talkies”. In that vein, he is successful, but the story never really comes together.
The three-hour and nine-minute run time make Babylon one of the longest in a long line of overly-long films this year. Too long, especially when the majority of the film feels like a strobe light of insane images set to top speed. I found the entire affair nauseating for more reasons than one. That said, however, the cast is indeed exceptional and each plays their respective characters flawlessly. For them, I am posting 2 stars and not one. Avoid seeing in theatres – pausing ability might have helped.