“Babylon” could have been a good movie, maybe even a great one.
After all, it had talented stars such as Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie and a compelling story about Hollywood’s transition from silent movies to the “talkies.”
Unfortunately, the film is ruined by vulgar party scenes involving nudity and urination, extraneous plots and weird, abstract elements in three hours that feel like three days.
“Babylon” tries to make itself dramatic by being shocking and instead ends up being vulgar to the point of being unwatchable.
The film did become better during scenes that showed how silent movies were made and the challenges when sound was added. Those parts of “Babylon” are actually good, and Mr. Pitt, Ms. Robbie and other actors do a great job in the scenes without any vulgarity.
But just when the movie is moving along nicely and you’re enjoying the story, another grotesque party/fight club scene is thrown in, and you have to suffer through that before the story picks up again. Or, right when the story is compelling, the characters start puking, and you’re wondering, “Why, why, why?”
Speaking of that, it’s a mystery why the Hollywood Foreign Press Association decided to nominate “Babylon” for best picture for the Golden Globes (in the musical/comedy category).
Damien Chazelle (“L.A. L.A. Land”) directed and wrote the film, which is about the rise and fall of various individuals in early, decadent Hollywood.
Mr. Pitt stars as movie star Jack Conrad, who has the looks and voice to survive the transition from silent films to “talkies,” but the question is how long can success last. That question, in fact, is explored by journalist Elinor St. John, played perfectly by the always talented Jean Smart.
Ms. Robbie plays Nellie LaRoy, a young woman who finds stardom in the silent movies, but she faces the same question as Jack. How well can she succeed in the era of sound pictures? And to what point does she have to pretend to be something she isn’t, in order to win the favor of high society and Hollywood?
Some of the best scenes with Ms. Robbie are early in the film, in which you see a director and Nellie working together to make a silent movie scene shine.
Diego Calva stands out among the cast for his portrayal of Manny Torres, who starts out in the bottom of the Hollywood ranks and climbs the ladder at a studio to become an executive.
Jovan Adepo does a good job of playing Sidney Palmer, a black jazz trumpeter who continues to face bigotry after he becomes successful in the movies.
So yes, “Babylon” has a great cast and moments of great storytelling that shows the problems of early Hollywood. And Mr. Chazelle does a good job of directing the scenes that show character development.
Sadly, all of that is undone by grotesque and vulgar scenes that were totally unnecessary to the plot.
Hollywood, please: Forget the vulgarity. Just tell a good story.