Either a hedonistic look at old Hollywood, a more pessimistic remake of Singing in the Rain, a David Lynch film or all three.


A tale of outsized ambition and outrageous excess, it traces the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood.

The rise and fall of three individuals during a turning point in Hollywood is told in . Manny Torres () is a Mexican immigrant who works as an assistant at a debaucherous party at Kinoscope studio executive Don Wallach's () mansion. At the party, Manny comes across aspiring New Jersey actress Nellie LaRoy () and silent film star Jack Conrad (). Nellie gets chosen as a last-minute replacement for a film shoot the next day, and Jack hires Manny to be his new personal assistant. As film transitions from silent cinema to sound, it affects the careers of all three in different ways.

Babylon Synopsis

Babylon is the latest film written and directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land, First Man). The film takes place from the 1920s through the 1930s, as the film begins to make the transition from silent and sound. This change is viewed from the perspective of Mexican immigrant Manny Torres, played by relative newcomer Diego Calva, who works his way up the ranks of the Hollywood studio system. At the same time, silent star Jack Conrad struggles with the transition. During this same period, Nellie LaRoy becomes a vast sensation, though she suffers from drugs and gambling, eventually getting her in trouble with gangster James McKay ().

My Thoughts on Babylon

Babylon is a sprawling three-hour-long epic that can either be described as a hedonistic look at old Hollywood, a more pessimistic remake of Singing in the Rain, or even a David Lynch film. The first half hour of the film consists of the party scene that has dominated most of the film's marketing, which features much debauchery featuring people in various states of undress and a few very taboo acts depicted. Babylon then settles into the main narrative, which tells the simultaneous stories of the three central protagonists, along with supporting characters such as film journalist Elinor St. John (), jazz trumpet player Sidney Palmer (), and cabaret singer Lady Fay Zhu ().

One element of Babylon that I have to praise is how it emphasizes how difficult it is to make a film. Probably the best sequence of the movie involves Margo Robbie's Nellie LaRoy's shooting her first talkie role in a sweltering studio, with the actress and crew getting increasingly angry as the sound man has various issues. As a whole, Robbie stands out as the best performance in the film, playing a loudmouth actress who is unwilling to change herself for the Hollywood elite.

There are times when Babylon feels like it should be more focused. Aside from the fact that the narrative takes place over two decades, much of the three-hour length of Babylon comes from various side plots. The weirdest of these subplots is when Manny tries to clear Nellie's debt with gangster James McKay, played very uncharacteristically by Tobey Maguire. The scene plays out as a counterpoint to the debaucherous party that opened the film and gives off a major David Lynch vibe, notably Blue Velvet and Lost Highway.

The ultimate message that Babylon seems to be trying to communicate is that cinema will remain the same, even if the people involved with it change. I don't think that Damien Chazelle is relatively successful at conveying that message, though without a doubt, Babylon can be seen as the antithesis of La La Land.

Trailer for Babylon

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.