Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★½

Anyone that's followed me on Letterboxd for a while should know I'm not a great fan of Tarantino. I love Jackie Brown and Kill Bill Vol. 1, and like Reservoir Dogs and Inglorious Basterds. The rest of his filmography I honestly could not care less for. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood kind of straddles a middle ground in between both those categories, but its flaws are perhaps the most easily noticeable out of any of Tarantino's films.

Starting with the positives of the film, is that there are definitely good scenes and acting moments that unfortunately don't really build to anything, but the scenes and moments themselves are good. What makes stretches of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood fun is that even Tortellini's bastardized version of 1969 is still a fun place to hang out and experience with the characters. DiCaprio feels too modern and out of place with the times depicted but does admittedly give his best effort in the performance. Brad Pitt stood out to me more in a positive direction because he looked and behaved like he belonged in the time period.

But with the positives done, what you have here is a plotless hangout movie about 1969 Hollywood featuring a quickly fading movie-star and his stunt double. This should've been all well and good, but Sharon Tate and the Manson Family also happen to be grafted onto this. There's no way you can convince me Sharon Tate was not just a fetish object for Tarantino in this film. Sharon Tate displays her feet prominently, bounces around dancing to 60s tunes, and sits down. That's it. There's one scene where she walks to a movie theater. She has no character, no arc, she is merely Tarantino's manic pixie dream girl. A great chunk of this movie is Tarantino’s masturbatory fairytale fantasy to her still being alive as a sex object without making her an actual living breathing person.

Despite all that, the bloated running time, and some other annoyances, I still would have walked out of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with an overall positive opinion had it not been for the ending. The ending is typical Tarantino bloodbath but it really just feels out of place here. It definitely doesn’t feel earned and the violence towards women is shocking in the sense that it really feels like Quentin hates them. Not to mention that the movie made me feel uncomfortable for what Tarantino was trying to say about young people. Every younger adult in this movie that isn't Sharon Tate really comes across badly considering every one of them that’s a character is in the Manson Family. If you made just a few tweaks you really could have released a movie that had an ending like this in 1969 as a cautionary B movie for the old folks of the day to have a moral panic over about "today's youth" and contort themselves about the moral degradation of contemporary society. I doubt that was Tarantino's intention(?) but who knows considering how much of this film is about aging and midlife crisis.

What became more obvious to me than ever while watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is that Tarantino really just needs to make an exploitation movie styled like the real exploitation films from the late 60s and early 70s. It's clearly the aesthetic that he's most interested in and the stories that he has the most passion for. He's needs to stop pretending to be highbrow and actually release a B-movie romp that's styled like these films he obviously adores already. He needs to make a movie Rick Dalton would actually have made. It would certainly suit his ultraviolent tendencies and let him really go wild with the dialogue. Go out and do it, Quentin! Stop bothering me with stuff like this and do what you really are interested in.

Erik [Auk] liked these reviews