A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Is It Any Good?
It's overlong, gratuitous, and self-indulgent, but this epic about Hollywood's origins has enough standout performances and cameos to make it worth watching. Chazelle isn't subtle in portraying early Hollywood as an industry and city of debauchery and excess, showing how "anything goes" in show business. Jack, an international silent film star, can do no wrong on screen, and he's (mostly) a genuinely good guy, even if he's a terrible husband and overly fond of drinking. Only Pitt, or possibly his close pal George Clooney, could have played this role in such a humanizing way. It's an overt reference to Gene Kelly's legendary character Don Lockwood from Singin' in the Rain -- which perhaps makes Nellie an example of all the Lina Lamonts, beautiful and riveting in the silent era but unable to transition into talkies because of a lack of elocution. Then there's Calva, who's fabulous as Manny -- with his big, expressive eyes that convey wonder at everything around him, until even he's beaten down by the compromises and corruption of the industry.
If there's anything that Chazelle seems to love as much as the move industry, it's jazz, and music plays a central role in his story. Adepo is terrific as the young bandleader who knows he's ready to be more than just background music. But if modern Hollywood is still struggling with racism, how much more prevalent was it in its inception? Everyone struggles with their place in the system, and it's only when writer Elinor St. John (Jean Smart, pitch-perfect as usual) spells it out for Jack that he understands. The people in front of or behind the camera don't matter nearly as much as the work itself -- or at least what it represents to the audience. Despite all of the notable performances and the technical mastery of everyone from composer Justin Hurwitz to cinematographer Linus Sandgren, the movie has some fairly big flaws. The bloated run time becomes self-indulgent after a while, and the uneven storytelling and pacing make Babylon feel like movies by the Coen Brothers, David O. Russell, and Quentin Tarantino all rolled into one. Ultimately, it's like Chazelle has simultaneously too much and not enough to say, so he's just doing everything all at once -- and, in this case, it can have less impact than he intended. Still, for those interested, watching Babylon on the big screen is a must. You may end up appreciating it more than you enjoy it, but it's proof that the auteur theory is alive and kicking with Damien Chazelle.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.