DVD: Babel

| by Ken | in Admin, Review Add comments

Man, this movie was hyped so much and received so many awards and award nominations that I am shocked at how little I enjoyed it. As everyone knows by now, the movie has a number of stories that tangentially connect and are all little vignettes about the world today.

There’s the marquee story (marquee because of the marquee actors) of Susan and Richard who have gone on vacation to Morocco to try and escape the woes of their real life. Sure Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett deliver affecting performances but I just didn’t care about their story. First, I was annoyed that we weren’t told they were in Morocco until the final third of the film – I guess it shouldn’t matter, but I was assuming they were in Afghanistan and I was blaming them for being tourists in a waring country only to realize that they were actually making a trek that a lot of tourists probably make. I felt like I was kind of set up with a false premise there. Second, it ends up a struggle to discern what their problem is – you as the viewer have to work to piece together that they lost a young child and that rather than turn to each other in crisis, they grew apart. The moment on this journey that helps bring them back together? A touching scene when Richard helps Susan, suffering from a gunshot wound, on to a bedpan – a scene which is then ruined by them making out with her still on the bedpan. There are some interesting moments when the rest of the bus is trying to convince Richard that they should all move on, but for the most part, I just found myself saying “puh-leez” through most of that story.

Closely related to that story is the story of Susan and Richard’s two children being watched by a nanny. The nanny can’t find anyone to watch them for her so she can get to Mexico to go to her son’s wedding so she takes the kids with her. And then the guy driving them to and from Mexico doesn’t get along with the border patrol so he runs the border and ditches the nanny and the kids in the dessert. Right. This storyline does have some believability in the issue of what does a nanny who is an illegal alien do when she wants to make a trip across the border and what should she do when presented with the possibility of a long trial vs. deportation. But the device to get the kids and nanny ditched in the dessert was a little too cumbersome and drawn out.

Also closely related to Susan and Richard’s story is that of the person who shot Susan. It turns out to be a kid trying to show his older brother how he is a better shot. And the rifle is supposed to be used to kill the wolves that are killing the family’s goats. I get this and it is tragic. Initially the rifle is considered to be a boon to the family because it will help them but ultimately, it turns to trouble. But the extra-curricular scenes with the boy watching his older sister came out of nowhere and did nothing to help paint the character of the boy. I really liked the acting of the father who wore pain on his face so visibly and the two kids were no slouches either. Still, the story fell flat for me.

The only story that did interest me was the one least connected to any of the others. A deaf-mute girl in a Japanese city (I’m going to guess Tokyo but I’d rather not have to guess) is having a hard time dealing with the combination of adolescence and her disability. She wants other teens to like her, especially boys, and finds that her disability is a turn-off and even a subject for jokes. Even when she finds a group that does accept her for who she is, the guy that she starts to like ends up making out with her friend who is not as deaf or as mute. She hates herself for who she is. A cop, who has come to investigate the gun her father gave to a Moroccan (the lone tie-in to the rest of the movie), ends up finding himself trying to comfort a very naked deaf-mute girl who wants desperately to be wanted. He does the right thing once realizing the situation yet it’s going to take some time before the girl can accept herself for who she is and pass the gauntlet that is adolescence.

So, 4 stories in one movie with minimal ties to each other. The globe-hopping did none of the stories any favors. Nor did the nonlinear nature of the movie – a device deliberately intended to keep some story elements from being revealed too early to keep the viewer guessing. To me, this was like a global version of Crash that didn’t work. (And while I did like Crash, I recognize it wasn’t perfect.)

Rating: 3 (out of 10)

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