Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★½

I really did not like this film. And I found it fairly disturbing by its end. I don’t think that this film is bad by any means. And it has its moments. But, overall, I just found the whole experience unnecessary. I may be very lonely on this island of opinion. Part of me believes that if we did not know that this was a Tarantino film, it would possibly be dismissed and forgotten fairly quickly.

I often have trouble losing myself in Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting in general. And it was really difficult here. I never got lost in the characters they were portraying. 

The pacing is such a slog. Thirty minutes in, and I felt it all could have been left out of the movie. Now, I don’t mind a slowly paced film. I watched Jeanne Dielman. And I thought a scene of her making a meatloaf for five minutes was riveting. But a scene like that shows some insight into the characters malaise. Watching Brad Pitt drive around for several minutes felt like a way to show some L.A. scenery and play some late 60s radio hits. But it did not really tell me anything about the character. (EDIT: I’ve changed my mind about this scene the day after. It does show how far away he currently is from the Hollywood Hills. It may mean more if you are from Los Angeles though).

I did not need Al Pacino to explain to me how Rick Dalton’s career was spiraling downward (although I liked seeing Pacino here and wish he had more to do). I did not need a title card telling me we were at the playboy mansion (I could figure it out). And I did not care for the voiceover (I think shows up early and then disappears until inexplicably returning at the end). I didn’t care about the Rick Dalton storyline as a whole. And I wasn’t sure why an incident involving Cliff’s wife is referenced but never explored. Why bother?

I did like Margot Robbie here as Sharon Tate. I wish she had more to do. But the scene where she watches the film she is in is the best scene in the film for me. I also liked the scene where Brad Pitt visits the Manson’s commune, much of which plays out like a horror film, but turns out unexpected by being the opposite of what you expect in a horror film while showing the truthfulness of the characters. It felt very much like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and made me wish that Tarantino would make a straight up horror film.

There is a throw away line on the television that kicks off the ending that I really liked—“And now the moment you have all been waiting for”. I wonder if that line plays on the audience knowing that it’s time for the Manson family to take over the plot and the massacre to come. The ending made me think of Funny Games and how an audience craves violence toward characters. But I did not come away feeling the way I did after watching Hanake’s film. Instead, I felt very sad for Sharon Tate and that her life was exploited for entertainment. I’m not sure why I was okay with the revisionary history found in Inglorious Basterds and, to a much lesser extent, that in Django Unchained. Perhaps Hitler and slavery are evils that deserve a harsher treatment than what actually happened. But Sharon Tate’s story is on such a personal level that this ending really had me upset in a bad way. And throwing the title on the screen at the end as if saying it is all make believe did not change my opinion. 

The main thought I had while watching this film is that Paul Thomas Anderson has supplanted Tarantino for me as America’s best auteur. And I’m not sure that the next Tarantino film will be such an event to anticipate for me, even if it is indeed his last film. And it makes me a little sad inside.

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