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Damien Chazelle Is Spiritually Incapable of Making a Movie Sans Jazz

Some jazz-age glamour to tide you over. Photo: Paramount Pictures/YouTube

Not all Damien Chazelle movies are about (or adjacent to) jazz. But the important ones are. Two of his musicals feature jazz-obsessed male leads — namely, his first indie effort, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, and the almost–Oscar Best Picture winner La La Land — while the psychological drama Whiplash explored an abusive drum instructor whose regimented teaching took all the spice out of the inherently seasoned genre. Now, Chazelle returns to his roots with Babylon, a Tinseltown epic set in the decadent era known as the jazz age. The movie set its sights on a December 23 release, paving a familiar road to the Academy Awards. Oscar bait or not (… it is), Chazelle makes his most interesting movies about the things he likes (jazz), so perhaps this new effort will make some sweet music. The first teaser dropped on September 13, giving us some new insight into the film’s amphetamine- and alcohol-fueled world — and from the looks of it, Babylon will be a doozy (or a Baz Luhrmann–inspired excuse to get Margot Robbie to do her default American accent). The full trailer dropped November 28, and from Tobey Maguire’s yellowed teeth to Margot Robbie icing her nipples to Brad Pitt almost getting Gatsby-ed, it’s clear that this movie is taking some big swings (and we’re not talking about dance moves). Below, all the casting, plot, and release information we know so far.

What’re the bebop basics of Babylon?

Well, it’s a movie directed by Damien Chazelle and written by Damien Chazelle, much like his past features. We also know it’s an ensemble film starring Brad Pitt, who’s fresh off the Bullet Train and lawsuits, Barbie Girl Margot Robbie, and Narcos: Mexico star Diego Calva. New photos suggest that Hollywood glamour and excess are the name of the game — Pitt and Calva are sat in tuxedos around Champagne bottles, while Robbie crowd-surfs a nightclub in a high-slit red dress. Fun!! Plus, Pitt plays an aging movie star reevaluating his life in a mirror, not dissimilar to his current reality. Chazelle revealed the film was inspired by “old-school epics that managed, through a handful of characters, to convey a society changing,” like The Godfather, La Dolce Vita, and Nashville.

Brad Pitt and Diego Calva. Photo: Paramount Pictures

Is Babylon about Babylon?

Chazelle probably named Babylon not for the ancient empire but for the other meaning of the word: a degenerate society. Per the first stills from Paramount Pictures, it’s the 1920s and Prohibition is all the rage. But that’s no matter — the illicit nightclubs are bumping with trombonists and flappers with extravagant headpieces, cross-dressing cigarette smokers, and the first Über-famous Hollywood stars. The official logline says the film is set in 1920s Los Angeles during the shift from silent pictures to talkies. Some movie stars make it big in the brave new world of synchronous sound, reaping power and wealth, while others, we can assume, fade into obscurity, left only with their vices in the decadence of Hollywood’s nascent golden age. “Everything is shifting underneath people’s feet,” Chazelle told Vanity Fair, “and I became really fascinated by the human cost of disruption at that magnitude, at a time when there was no road map, when everything was just new and wild.” If you’re looking for a true-to-life, historically inspired film, look elsewhere as Chazelle explained the film is “mostly fictional.”

Well, who completes the ensemble?

Watchmen’s Jovan Adepo and Sex/Life’s Li Jun Li will appear, alongside P.J. Byrne, Lukas Haas, and Olivia Hamilton. Chazelle also managed to wrangle in legend Jean Smart, who is currently starring in Hacks, and nostalgic Spider-Man Tobey Maguire. Spike Jonze, Max Minghella, Rory Scovel, Katherine Waterston, Flea, Jeff Garlin, Eric Roberts, Ethan Suplee, and Samara Weaving are all said to be in the movie as well. Last but not least, Olivia Wilde, who bears a heavy cross of drama, will appear.

Li Jun Li. Photo: Paramount Pictures/Paramount Pictures

What else has Chazelle said about the movie?

The writer-director promises a production. “It was definitely the hardest thing I’ve done,” he said to Vanity Fair. “Just the logistics of it, the number of characters, the scale of the set pieces, the span of time that the movie charts — it all conspired to make it particularly challenging, but it was a challenge that was pretty exciting to take on.” He doesn’t mention this being part of his whole jazz shtick, but that’s fine for now. Jazz is about the future, after all.

This post has been updated throughout.

Damien Chazelle’s Babylon Is Giving Old-Hollywood Debauchery