Exuberant excess

This is writer/director Damien Chazelle’s very loose, romantic but not romanticized rendition of the early days of Hollywood and the film industry’s struggle to adapt to talking pictures. Chazelle impressed with his 2014 debut feature Whiplash and took home the Best Director Oscar in 2016 for La La Land. Well, he was just getting warmed up. 

You will undoubtedly hear this fever dream of a movie referred to as “Singin’ in the Rain on steroids.” Well, add to that coke, booze, weed and several classes of psychotropics, and you’ll get a better idea of where to start. 

It follows the rise and fall of a variety of movie types. A terrific Margo Robbie is the confident and sexy starlet, Brad Pitt the fading romantic lead, and Diego Calva a Mexican stage hand who recognizes what the future holds for this fledgling industry. The cast also includes Li Jun Li, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo and a scary if not quite believable Tobey Maguire as a syphilitic crime boss. 

That this thrillingly reckless film more or less bombed at the box office in no way makes it a bad movie. It suffers a bit in the storytelling department, being as it is more of a series of set pieces knitted together. That would usually be a turnoff for me, but it earns its long runtime, and I was not for a second bored. Indeed, the 45-minute opening orgy scene is so intense and exuberant that when the film sags a bit in the middle, as three-hour movies will, it comes as a welcome relief. 

Yes, it clearly parallels Singin’ in the Rain, but in an unapologetic, even adoring way, and the final scene, which includes clips from the 1952 musical classic, is one of the most moving I’ve ever seen. (189 min)