Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis gets 10-minute standing ovation and booed at Cannes

The film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: Adam Driver attends the
Adam Driver attends the Megalopolis Red Carpet at the 77th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16. (FilmMagic)

Francis Ford Coppola's Megalopolis had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, and critics were somewhat baffled by the production afterwards.

A film that has been 40 years in the making, Megalopolis stars the likes of Adam Driver, Nathalie Emmanuel and Giancarlo Esposito in a sprawling narrative that even reviewers found difficult to summarise. At its most basic, Megalopolis follows Driver's Caesar Catalina, an architect intent on building a new utopia out of New York City.

The stars of the film stepped out at Cannes in support of it on Thursday 16 May, gracing the red carpet with Driver donning a white tux and his co-stars Aubrey Plaza and Emmanuel following suit by opting for ivory gowns to dazzle the crowds.

But no amount of Hollywood glitz and glamour could dissuade critics from giving the film a resounding kicking, metaphorically speaking. The film received a 10-minute standing ovation that featured a mix of boos and cheers, while it was described as a "mess", as being "frequently baffling", and a "frustrating and paradoxical" movie by various reviewers.

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: (L-R) Nathalie Emmanuel, Chloe Fineman, Grace VanderWaal, Romy Croquet Mars, Laurence Fishburne, Adam Driver, Francis Ford Coppola, Giancarlo Esposito, D. B. Sweeney and Talia Shire attend the

For example, Evening Standard's Jo-Ann Titmarsh was not impressed by the movie, writing: "The plot is exhausting and absurd." The critic added that it "is no pleasure" writing a bad review but that "if Coppola’s ego is big enough to show this in Cannes, then it should be big enough to deal with" the muted response from critics.

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While Titmarsh called the film a "tawdry mess", the critic did have praise for some of the cast: "Plaza perhaps is the most fun to watch while Driver and LeBeouf, despite their incredible talent, just can’t wrestle a decent performance between them out of the muddled script, which has Driver spouting both Hamlet and The Tempest but no Julius Caesar."

The Telegraph's Robbie Collin seemed also equally confounded by the film, calling it "a full-body sensory bath movie", going on to joke: " Something clearer? OK, try this: imagine Succession crossed with Batman Forever crossed with a lava lamp."

Adam Driver and Nathalie Emmanuel in the first look at Megalopolis. (American Zoetrope/Megalopolis/Mihai Malaimare Jr.)
Megalopolis follows Adam Driver's Caesar Catalina, an architect intent on building a new utopia out of New York City. (American Zoetrope)

Despite Collin's reservations, he wrote that Aubrey Plaza "has the measure of the thing better than anyone bar Coppola himself: she’s fantastic, both in her more conventionally dramatic scenes and the film’s numerous psychedelic meltdowns, in which she often looms on the screen like a Blade Runner hologram."

Feeling similarly, The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney questioned whether the film could be seen as "a distancing work of hubris, a gigantic folly, or a bold experiment, an imaginative bid to capture our chaotic contemporary reality" and argued that it was "all those things" for better or worse.

The critic said: "It’s windy and overstuffed, frequently baffling and way too talky, quoting Hamlet and The Tempest, Marcus Aurelius and Petrarch, ruminating on time, consciousness and power to a degree that becomes ponderous. But it’s also often amusing, playful, visually dazzling and illuminated by a touching hope for humanity."

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: (L-R) Aubrey Plaza and Adam Driver attend the
Megalopolis was described as a 'mess and as being 'frequently baffling' but of all the cast Aubrey Plaza was universally praised. (FilmMagic)

Deadline's Damon Wise said that it was difficult "to focus on the quality of the acting" because of the confusing narrative and the film's tendency to be "unruly, exaggerated and drawn to pretension like a moth to a flame."

Despite this, Wise wrote that it is also "a pretty stunning achievement, the work of a master artist who has taken to IMAX like Caravaggio to canvas. It is a true modern masterwork of the kind that outrages with its sheer audacity."

The critic went on: "Coppola breaks many of the cardinal rules of filmmaking in the film’s 138 minutes, but it upholds the most important one: It is never, ever boring, and it will inspire just as many artists as the audiences it will alienate."

Watch the trailer for Megalopolis:

The Wrap's Ben Croll amusingly compared the film to anime, writing: "At its best, Megalopolis feels like a live-action anime, closely following the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer as it collapses screen space into a pixelated spectacle, leaving any notion of physics in the dust. At its worst, the film also feels like a live-action anime, worked-over and poorly dubbed, full of halting speeches and expository drops growing ever more dramatically inert."

Calling it "a frustrating and paradoxical affair", Croll added: "The film is expertly assembled and sleepily directed all at once; it wows with its imagination and erudition all while leaving you little more than bemused."

IndieWire's David Ehrlich argued that Coppola's love of the project is what keeps it going, writing: "It hardly seems to matter that each scene feeds into the next with the grace of a wave crashing into a jetty — not when it’s so exciting to see what might happen next, and stray moments of transcendent surprise can be found hiding in even the flattest stretches.

British actress Nathalie Emmanuel (L) and US actor Giancarlo Esposito leave after the screening of the film
While some critics struggled to find a redeeming feature for the film, there were those that praised how bold it was and how it challenges the idea of cinema. (Getty Images)

"So while it might be tempting to see this kooky, nepotistically cloistered, and unconscionably expensive magnum opus as the self-involved work of a fading artist who’s lost whatever was left of his ability to tell good ideas from bad, Megalopolis does everything in its power to remind the audience that we share in the outcome of its demented fever dream. "

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Megalopolis has had a difficult journey to the screen, with Coppola first conceiving the idea in the 1980s and trying to make it a reality, with or without financial aid. In the lead up to its premiere, the film was also hit with a Guardian report about an allegedly chaotic set, with the director accused of acting inappropriately with female extras. Coppola's representatives did not respond for comment.

Sheen was second choice for the role of Captain Willard in this epic, replacing Harvey Keitel. But the stress of the role contributed to Sheen having a heart attack during filming, such a severe one that he was administered last rites. Luckily, after a six week delay, the actor was back filming his scenes and a classic was born.
Megalopolis has been hit with some controversy in the lead up to its release, which draws similarities to Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now and its difficult journey to the screen. (United Artists)

The accusations of a difficult filming environment has drawn similarities to Coppola's war epic Apocalypse Now, which was plagued with issues over the course of production such as star Harvey Keitel being dropped days into shooting and replaced by Martin Sheen who suffered a near-fatal heart attack whilst filming.

Sets were destroyed, the budget became so large Coppola had to finance it to keep it going, and the filming schedule went from six weeks to 16 months — but in the end it became one of the greatest war movies ever made. Whether Megalopolis will weather a similar storm and come out of it the other side a celebrated masterpiece is unclear.

Megalopolis will be released in cinemas and IMAX, a release date has not yet been set.