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'Babylon' movie review with Casey T. Allen

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Movie poster for the historical drama "Babylon"
Theatrical release poster

You know what kind of movie Hollywood loves? It's movies about Hollywood! In the first few minutes of Babylon, you see the preparations for (and the explosions of) a wild house party in 1926 Bel Air, California. These first few minutes include piles of cocaine, a defecating elephant, and a golden shower all to visualize the reckless debauchery of early bohemian Hollywood.

After watching this crazy party scene, I thought, "I'm going to hate this film." But by the end I was thankfully wrong. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, who splashed into the prestigious award season with his 2014 film Whiplash, the film Babylon is a long love letter to the beginning years of Tinseltown, its frantic speed, and its unpredictable forces.

To illustrate these forces, the film tells four intertwining stories of an established leading man, a gambling-addicted ingenue, a Black trumpet player, and a frazzled but hopeful Spanish assistant. All of these story lines are well-paced and offer amusing references to famous historical movie figures like actress Marlene Dietrich, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, Douglas Fairbanks' clean-cut looks, and pioneering Asian movie star Anna May Wong.

Balancing the comedy through abruptly jumpy editing and the dangerous underworld of fight clubs and racism through red lighting and long tracking shots, Babylon feels like one half Singin' in the Rain (1952) and one half Goodfellas (1990), blending the dogged pursuit of creating movie magic with unbridled criminal raunchiness.

This film is very rated R, surprisingly funny and slightly over three hours in length. But unlike Avatar: The Way of Water, Babylon remains fun and interesting enough that the run time flew by for me. (A well-written screenplay surely makes a difference even in today's film market that's desperate for the next gravy train blockbuster.)

Numerous scenes could benefit from some trimming or tighter timing, but the giant, gaudy maximalism is really the main attraction in this film's epic storytelling. The ending doesn't need such obvious references to Singin' in the Rain, and the stirring montage of cinematic gems feels disappointingly heavy-handed in its finale.

But viewers will have a good time watching this one....especially viewers who love movies. Babylon is not the movie of the year for 2022, but it's one of the good ones.

Casey T. Allen is a native of Utah who graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor's degree in English in 2007. He has worked in many capacities throughout USU campus and enjoys his time at UPR to continually exercise his writing.