Based on the box office receipts, odds are you did not see Babylon, director Damien Chazelle’s ode to the silent era of Hollywood moviemaking. The film grossed just $15 million in U.S. theaters against a reported budget of $80 million. (For sake of comparison, Chazelle’s La La Land made almost $450 million worldwide against a $30 million budget.)
But if you’re one of the many folks who liked La La Land and missed Babylon you have another chance; the film is now available on Paramount+. Chazelle’s epic — it clocks in at over three hours — follows a diverse group of characters as they navigate the years where cinema transitioned from silent filmmaking to sound. The cast includes Margot Robbie as a vivacious young starlet on the rise and Brad Pitt as a well-established, and extremely alcoholic leading man, trying to pull his career out of a tailspin.
Despite a great cast, fascinating subject matter, and a critically acclaimed writer/director, Babylon fared just as poorly with critics as with audiences. It earned a 56 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for only three Academy Awards: Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, and Best Production Design. In my own mixed review, I wrote:
If nothing else, you have to appreciate that Chazelle has managed to make one of the few big-budget Hollywood films of the last few years that is about something other than superheroes or video game characters. Throughout, he wears his inspirations on his sleeve; long sequences play like a more serious version of Singin’ in the Rain; others have the drug-fueled energy of Boogie Nights. But the final product doesn’t measure up with either of those superior showbiz comic melodramas. Chazelle seems so enamored with his simulacrum of this forgotten world that he loses sight of the people in it.
Still, I would definitely watch this movie again on streaming. For all the things that don’t work about it, there are others that do — and it is an incredible ambitious effort, even if I don’t think it’s a totally successful one. I could see it becoming a cult film over time, especially now that it’s widely available to stream on Paramount+.
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The Real-Life Inspirations For the Characters in Babylon
Here are the historical figures who inspired the fictional characters in Damien Chazelle’s Babylon.