I was told several months ago that Damien Chazelle‘s Babylon is a highly energetic, epic-sized smorgasbord (188 minutes!) in which the excesses of The Wolf of Wall Street serve the basic story template of Singin’ in the Rain (i.e., Hollywood transitioning from silents to sound).

Other influences, according to one who saw a rough cut last spring, were John Schlesinger‘s The Day of the Locust, the orgy sequence from Eyes Wide Shut, and maybe a dash or two of Steven Spielberg’s 1941.

But in the wake of last night’s Academy screening, I’m hearing from one viewer that it’s basically a three-character Great Gatsby film (set primarily in the late 1920s) blended with a grotesque version of American Hustle. Brad Pitt, Diego Calva and Margot Robbie respectively play fading movie star Jack Conrad, ambitious industry climber Manny Torres and the Clara Bow-like Nellie LaRoy — a trio analogous to Gatsby‘s Jay, Nick and Daisy. And it has a delightful ending, I’m told. And it’s true that sometimes a really good ending can save a film.

On the other hand Babylon is all woked up and seemingly angled at Zoomers, who all insist on angelic people of color (in this instance Jovan Adepo‘s trumpet-playing Sidney Palmer, Li Jun Li‘s Anna May Wong-inspired Lady Fay Zhu) being marginalized and pushed to the side by evil whites. The minorities are just their skin color and type because that is how we’re trained to see them now — “gay”, “Asian”, “Black”, “Mexican-American”…check check check.

“You don’t watch Babylon — you endure it,” says a friend. “Chazelle took a lot of risks…it’s such a daring film and Damien goes all the way with it, and one can’t help but be impressed by the end. But it’s really hard to watch…at times very gross, loud, shrill, too long…they all scream their lines. Pitt’s character is the only one you really feel for…Robbie may have pushed it too hard….Diego just stares.”