‘Babylon’ looks great but doesn’t put a gloss on Hollywood

Dennis Hudson
Dennis Hudson


Hollywood loves to make movies about Hollywood.

There’s something very insider-ish about pulling back the curtain and showing what the business is really like.

Unfortunately, Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon” doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen in several films. Unlike his more superior “La La Land,” this just prints the myth.

So how did his “Babylon” go so wrong?

Attempting to tell the story of the movie business as it transitioned from silents to talkies, Chazelle decides to include all the scandals that have been whispered around town. Ryan Murphy had a similar concept with “Hollywood” and “Mank” dirtied things up a bit. But “Babylon” is such a snake pit it’s amazing anyone ever wanted to go there.

Through the eyes of an assistant (nicely played by Diego Calva), we see just how quixotic the business was. Actors would wait for hours just for the light to be right; actresses would be expected to cry on cue. But then Chazelle shows the parties – the orgies – and the strings that were attached to many of the biggest stars and everything seems to go from dream factory to nightmare alley.

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Brad Pitt plays a leading man (so far, so good) who wants to enjoy the talkie world; Margot Robbie slips in as a woman who just wants to act. Talent, it seems, isn’t a pre-requisite, so she learns on the job.

At those parties (where anything could and does happen), a gossip columnist (the spot-on Jean Smart) takes notes and tells all.

Tobey Maguire shows up as a gangster and, when scenes don’t seem chaotic enough, Chazelle heads into the bowels of the community.

Midway through the film, you get the sense this is trying to tell the real story behind “Singin’ in the Rain.” But it doesn’t have much joy attached to any of it. This is the dark side of Hollywood. The very dark side.

Pitt, who should tower in something like this, disappears for long stretches, abandoning Calva to figure things out. He does, accelerating a career that could say plenty about the way to advance in the entertainment industry. Being in the right place at the right time is often all it takes.

Scenes, however, don’t always have focus. Chazelle puts his camera in the middle of chaos and lets the games begin.

When two hours have passed, we’re nowhere near the film’s end. Its technical aspects (including the super score by Justin Hurwitz) don’t wane but Chazelle (who wrote the screenplay) somehow feels a need to stuff everything into a box and pull out a conclusion. It doesn’t work.

Pitt and Robbie are good actors. They’re not miracle workers. Calva tries, but when you’re stuck behind an elephant, the results aren’t always good.


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Dennis Hudson
Posted by Dennis Hudson
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