(director/writer: Damien Chazelle; cinematographer: Linus Sandgren; editor: Tom Cross; music: Justin Hurwitz; cast: Brad Pitt (Jack Conrad), Olivia Wilde (Married to Jack Conrad), Margot Robbie (Nellie LeRoy), Diego Calva (Manny Torres), Li Jon Li (Lady Fay Zhu), Jovan Adepo (Sidney Palmer), Tobey Maguire (James McKay), Max Minghella (Irving Thalberg), Lukas Haas (George Munn), P.J Byrne (Ruth’s AD), Bob Levine (Flea), Jeff Garlin (Don Wallach), Jennifer Grant (Mildred Yates), Jean Smart (Elinor St. John); Runtime: 188; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Marc Platt/Matthew Plouffe/Olivia Hamilton; Paramount Pictures; 2022)
“I both loved and hated it.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Writer-director Damien Chazelle (“First Man”/”La La Land”) is the young filmmaker of this messy, superficial and vulgarian big budget epic, at over three hours length, that’s both a love letter to La La land and a cautionary warning about the glorious hedonistic early days of silent films. After the self-indulgent film lays it on thick and takes us for a ride on its seamy side, it doesn’t have much to say as it’s more into showing off its lavish spectacle, using Justin Hurwitz’s jazz score to evoke a Jazz Age mood of abandonment and into being as stylish and decadent as it can be. I both loved and hated it, but never felt I loved it as much as I felt taken in by its funky characters posed as the real Hollywood characters of that ‘golden age’ period.
The title can be derived from its coke-fueled depiction of Hollywood in the late-20s, as we get swept away by its party atmosphere and the clamor for personal freedom in the days of the “pre-Motion Picture Code,” where sex was on the screen without censorship. It showed how a debauched Hollywood still at times produced Hollywood magic on the screen with either great films or great stars, or great screen moments. If nothing else, it evokes the crazed mood of those jazz-era swinging days.
Story-wise it follows along the lines of Gene Kelly’s and Stanley Donen’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” that tells us with the advent of the ‘talkies’ Tinseltown was never the same.
Further references can be visualized from the raunchiness of works like Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon or from the flashiness of its production as a reminder of one of Baz Luhrmann’s signature films.
It’s a film where Brad Pitt plays a much married handsome silent star like John Gilbert, whose career is fading while his boozing is becoming more problematic. Margot Robbie is a free-spirit gambling addict and aspiring star, who arrived in Hollywood from New Jersey and is willing to do anything to be an actress. She boozes it up and is a party girl while waiting to be discovered. Jovan Adepo plays a Louie Armstrong type of jazz player, who will eventually figure out how racist Hollywood is. Diego Calva plays a Mexican immigrant posing as a Spaniard to avoid the bigotry against Mexicans, who rises from the bottom while on the household staff of a studio honcho (Jeff Garlin). It’s from Calva’s sensuous and ambitious eyes we can keep track of things in the film industry and can notice the minority presence in Hollywood.
It’s a bombastic film that thinks big but only manages to blurt out small things. It’s all about shaming and loving Hollywood at the same time by both admiring and admonishing it.
REVIEWED ON 12/20/2022 GRADE: B