‘Babylon’ First Reactions: Damien Chazelle Film a ‘Flaming Hot Mess’ to Some Critics, a ‘Dazzling, Dizzying Cacophony’ to Others

Responses were all over the map, with praise centering on Margot Robbie’s performance and Justin Hurwitz’s score

Paramount Pictures

Monday night, Paramount hosted an early screening of Damien Chazelle’s highly anticipated new film “Babylon,” and reactions to the comedic epic set in the Golden Age of Hollywood are as wild and grandiose as the era it depicts.

Out Dec. 23, the film is the Oscar-winning “La La Land” writer-director’s first feature since 2018, and in his own words, his most ambitious project yet. The A-list cast is led by “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” co-stars Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt, as well as newcomer Diego Calva. Olivia Wilde, Flea, Jean Smart, Tobey Maguire and Spike Jonze among many others also star in this fictionalized account of big dreams and bigger debauchery in 1920s Hollywood.

A first trailer, released in September, promised entertainment and chaos in equal measure, with characters narrowly avoiding certain death on movie sets, falling off of balconies at sumptuous parties and snorting lines of coke.

And to some extent, critics’ first reactions mirrored that madness, almost universally deeming it a “mess” – both complimentarily and not.

TheWrap’s Carlos Aguilar captured the anticipation at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, writing “LA’s hottest club tonight is the first screening of BABYLON. Huge line around the block. Here for Diego Calva’s performance.”

“#Babylon is both a sensational celebration of cinema as an art form and a deeply probing condemnation of the mechanics behind said art form,” wrote TheWrap’s Drew Taylor. “Overflowing with razzamatazz – gorgeous cinematography, costumes, design and full of killer performances.”

Critic Scott Menzel acknowledged the film’s ambition, but ultimately called it a “mess.”

“I don’t even know where to begin with this one but the tone is all over the place,” he added, praising Robbie’s efforts but saying that the script “fails her”: “A love letter to cinema that made me hate cinema.”

Yahoo Entertainment’s Kevin Polowy concurred that it was “the strangest, most debaucherous love letter to Hollywood ever,” pointing to “a coked-up Margot Robbie projectile vomiting all over the face of a stuffy old man in a tux” as a symbol of the film’s “chaotic energy and glorious messiness.”

Robbie – who plays a young starlet à la Clara Bow and Joan Crawford – as well as Calva and composer Justin Hurwitz were on the receiving end of most of the praise.

Variety’s Clayton Davis, who enjoyed the film’s first half, said “Babylon” is “likely the internet’s new favorite movie of all-time. Margot Robbie and Justin Hurwitz are your stars.”

Deadline’s Destiny Jackson applauded Calva’s “tender and visceral” acting, adding, “Can’t wait to see him in more stuff.”

Cheat Sheet’s Jeff Nelson had high praise for Chazelle and Hurwitz’s latest collaboration: “Damien Chazelle incorporates his signature musicality and movement throughout,” he wrote. “Justin Hurwitz’s score is one hell of a wall of sound.”

But for every Anne Thompson of IndieWire praising the film as “great fun,” there was a Joshua Rothkopf of EW critiquing it as “pounding and obvious and, finally, uninsightful.”

“Everything about it is borrowed — even down to Tobey Maguire stealing the film as its Alfred Molina,” he added. “A Scorsese coke film by a squeaky clean director.”

Read below for more first reactions to “Babylon.”