There is another fairytale afoot in Hollywood, thanks to Oscar winner Damien Chazelle’s sweeping ode to the rise of talkies.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” co-stars Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt reunite onscreen for “Babylon,” Chazelle’s star-studded take on the pitfalls of fame and the slow-moving tide of change in the film industry. Set during the transitional period in Hollywood when silent movies gave way to talkies, Robbie stars as aspiring actress Nellie LaRoy, who is an amalgam of early “talkies” stars Clara Bow, Jeanne Eagels, John Crawford, and Alma Rubens. With dreams of reaching stardom, Nellie crosses paths with aging icon Jack Conrad (Pitt), inspired by John Gilbert, Clark Gable, and Douglas Fairbanks.
“Babylon” premieres December 25 with a limited release, followed by a wide release January 6, 2023, making the feature a buzzed-about Oscars contender.
The official synopsis reads: “From Damien Chazelle, ‘Babylon’ is an original epic set in 1920s Los Angeles led by Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Diego Calva, with an ensemble cast including Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li and Jean Smart. 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 ensemble cast also includes Samara Weaving, Li Jun Li, Katherine Waterston, Olivia Wilde, Spike Jonze, Jean Smart, Lukas Haas, Jovan Adepo, Tobey Maguire (who also executive produces), Diego Calva, and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. Max Minghella is playing the only real-life figure included in the historical fiction feature, studio exec Irving Thalberg.
“La La Land” director Chazelle writes and directs the feature, which is produced by Marc Platt and Matthew Plouffe. Executive producers include Michael Beugg, actor Tobey Maguire, Wyck Godfrey, Helen Estabrook, and Adam Siegel.
Audiences saw a first glimpse at the luxurious world of “Babylon” during Paramount’s showcase at 2022 CinemaCon. Chazelle also previously explained that the “big, epic, multi-character movie” has been 15 years in the making. He finally penned the screenplay after 2018’s “First Man” and tasked “La La Land” Oscar-winning cinematographer Linus Sandgren and composer Justin Hurwitz to join.
“‘Babylon’ was the biggest cast, the biggest number of roles I’ve ever juggled by far,” Chazelle said during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. “The casting process took a long, long time. It’s a mostly fictional film where the characters are fictional but inspired by composites of real-life people. Writing them I was getting inspiration from a lot of those real-life sources, but pretty quickly, you move to the casting phase and you’re just looking for people to surprise you. That was the guiding principle, to demolish all preconceived notions of that era, those people, and find actors who would convey that spirit.”
He added, “It was my first time doing a real ensemble, panoramic movie. I was trying to look at novels and movies like certain Fellini pictures like ‘La Dolce Vita,’ Altman movies like ‘Nashville,’ the ‘Godfather’ pictures. These old-school epics that manage through a handful of characters to convey a sense of an entire society evolving and changing, so that by the end of the movie, you’re in a completely different world.”
The writer-director teased that “Babylon” captures the “wild West” of the “Roaring Twenties” with “more excess, more drugs, a more kind of extreme living on all ends of the spectrum than people even realize.”
Check out the trailer below.