Babylon ★★★★

I'm concerned by just how much those final 15 minutes or so hit me emotionally. Then again, I probably shouldn't be too surprised, because Chazelle's approach to the subject matter seems to be based on the kind of complicated feelings someone like me would recognise – you know, those of a sheltered thirtysomething film studies nerd who is, against his better judgment, immensely nostalgic for the idea of Old Hollywood (destructive excesses included, hypothetically) but also far too conscious of the actual human misery and exploitation at its centre to ever feel comfortable celebrating it without adding a whole bunch of asterisks.

It's also not surprising that this mindset results in a wildly uneven movie that doesn't contain a boring second but that never quite seems to coalesce into a unified vision. The parties feel like awed approximations; the behind-the-scenes sequences have an air of having been adapted from disparate bits of studio system trivia, gleaned from an Orson Welles interview where he told Peter Bogdanovich the gossip he heard about what L.A. had been like ten years before he got there. The human drama works in fits, but it's formulaic to a fault, burdened by a script that is too self-aware to have its characters stray too far from the fixed cultural ideas they're built from. The whole affair kept reminding me of Film Crit Hulk writing about La La Land: "In the end, it's a dance partner who's trying to flip you about and pull off some major cool stuff while slightly-yet-constantly stepping on your toes."

And yet, I think this might be one of those movies that are good even when they're bad – as in, even when a scene or a sequence or an idea misses the mark, they feel earnest and truthful. Ultimately, this probably isn't even Chazelle's grand theory or rueful diagnosis of Hollywood or cinema writ large, regardless of that deeply misguided yet (in my case at least) strangely moving final theatre ad of a coda. Rather, this strikes me as the case of an old-timey movie nerd, who would probably jump at the opportunity to travel back to Hollywood in 1926 if he was given the chance, making the next best thing he can actually do – shoot a 188-minute-long Old Hollywood theme park ride. I don't know what to tell you, it worked for me.

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