Critics, journalists, and awards pundits in Los Angeles — and especially those who race to Twitter to offer snap reactions after big studio screenings — were in their element on Monday night, which marked the first public screening of Damien Chazelle‘s awards hopeful “Babylon.”
The film — a 183-minute fantasia about the early days of Hollywood picture-making — stars Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Jovan Adepo, Jean Smart, Samara Weaving, Li Jun Li, Lukas Haas, Max Minghella, and Tobey Maguire, plus newcomer Diego Calva in a lead role and reunites Chazelle with cinematographer Linus Sangren, who shot “First Man” and “La La Land,” and composer Justin Hurwitz, who has collaborated with the writer-director since his first indie, “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.” All three of those collaborators won Oscars for “La La Land.” Editor Tom Cross, who won an Oscar for Chazelle’s “Whiplash” and was a nominee for “La La Land,” returns as well.
Alas, despite the pedigree and high expectations as one of the final major Best Picture contenders to screen this year, many first reactions felt this new one lacked the tightness of a “Whiplash” drum.
EW’s Josh Rothkopf felt it was a poor match of artist and repertoire, concluding that for all the bombast, it was “uninsightful.”
Damien Chazelle brings buckets of energy to BABYLON, but it’s never not pounding and obvious and, finally, uninsightful. Everything about it is borrowed — even down to Tobey Maguire stealing the film as its Alfred Molina. A Scorsese coke film by a squeaky clean director.
— Joshua Rothkopf (@joshrothkopf) November 15, 2022
Critic Scott D. Menzel called it “an ambitious mess” that was “all over the place.”
Babylon is an ambitious mess of a film. I don’t even know where to begin with this one but the tone is all over the place. Margot Robbie tries but the script fails her. A love letter to cinema that made me hate cinema. #BabylonMovie pic.twitter.com/BnKQiOz2Zd
Variety’s Clayton Davis allowed that “the first half was great.”
#Babylon feels like if someone read Damien Chazelle the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and then he said, "hold my beer!"
High octane, cocaine-inducing trip. First half is great. Likely the internet's new favorite movie of all-time. Margot Robbie and Justin Hurwitz are your stars. pic.twitter.com/aM3rru1so0
— Clayton Davis – Stand with (@ByClaytonDavis) November 15, 2022
Critic Ryan Swen admired Chazelle’s confidence, just felt he lacked the goods.
BABYLON: Truly monstrous in its thudding insistence on shoving the viewer’s face in the muck and claiming it’s something novel or moving; Chazelle might be the most confident director in Hollywood today, of course he’s also got some of the worst instincts out there.
— Ryan Swen/孫天行/Sun Tianxing (@swen_ryan) November 15, 2022
The New York Times’s Kyle Buchanan, always eager to dish on the weird parts of a movie, commented about Robbie waving a dildo in Weaving’s face, and someone getting covered in elephant dung — all while referencing Nicole Kidman‘s oft-memed AMC commerical. (Whether these are positives or negatives remains a little ambiguous.)
That indescribable feeling we get when the lights begin to dim and an elephant shits directly into the camera lens. Not just entertained, but somehow reborn together. Dazzling images of someone getting a golden shower. Sound that I can feel.
— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) November 15, 2022
We come to this place for magic. We come to AMC Theaters to laugh, to cry, to watch Samara Weaving wave a dildo at Margot Robbie.
— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) November 15, 2022
Collider’s Steven “Frosty” Weintraub simply commented on the movie’s coked-up energy, without offering his opinion.
#BabylonMovie is a 4 course meal that’s been cooked with a lot of cocaine. Damien Chazelle has crafted a love letter to cinema that looks back on the silent to talkie era of Hollywood and pulls back the curtain on some of the crazy debauchery of the era. pic.twitter.com/7GyIovDcRR
— Steven Weintraub (@colliderfrosty) November 15, 2022
Oh, dear, you ask, did anyone like this thing? Yes, absolutely. Here are some positive responses from AFP’s Andrew Marszal, CheatSheet’s Jeff Nelson, critic Courtney Howard, and someone named Alison.
Not often you see mind-blowing movies made for the big screen – Damien Chazelle just made one with Babylon. It is bold, unique, intense, insane, ultimately profound. #BabylonMovie
— Awards Daily (@AwardsDaily) November 15, 2022
Just watched #BabylonMovie – first reaction: it’s raucous fun & very daring. Develops into something remarkably dark, brutal and nostalgic, with a powerful sense of Hollywood lore – and again, tons of fun. Loved Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie performances. pic.twitter.com/zvkCZ4wdEN
— Andrew Marszal (@andrewmarszal) November 15, 2022
#Babylon/#BabylonMovie is a daring Hollywood epic that utterly shocks the senses. Margot Robbie and Diego Calva give huge performances. Damien Chazelle incorporates his signature musicality and movement throughout. Justin Hurwitz’s score is one hell of a wall of sound. pic.twitter.com/RTlL9WhaKa
— Jeff Nelson (@SirJeffNelson) November 15, 2022
Damien Chazelle’s #BabylonMovie is a dazzling, dizzying cacophony of demented depravity. d! A rebellious, outrageous portrait of golden-era hedonistic Hollywood. Margot Robbie is a live wire. Diego Calva is sensational. Awe-inducing costume & production design. pic.twitter.com/tzDRZgMKvN
— Courtney Howard (@Lulamaybelle) November 15, 2022
#BabylonMovie is the coke-snorting love child of Singin’ in the Rain and The Wolf of Wall Street. Cinematography and Score are otherworldly. Diego Calva and Margot Robbie are magnetic. Far & away my favorite film of the year and, in my opinion, Chazelle’s best.
— Alison (@alisonlabelle) November 15, 2022
Extravagant, decadent and all together delightfully delicious. @babylonmovie is phenomenal filmmaking . This is Damien Chazelle’s love letter to movie making, and Margot Robbie’s best performance to date. The score is outstanding. pic.twitter.com/86zpBANE8D
— Jazz Tangcay (@jazzt) November 15, 2022
The chattering class in New York gets their first look at the picture on Wednesday.
“Babylon” is in theaters on December 23.
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