Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The catharsis Tarantino is reaching for with his hangout movie is slightly cheapened by the fact it’s two stories shopped into one. One is the story of Rick Dalton and his loyal stunt double Cliff Booth. The other being Sharon Tate’s cultural moment before her life was put in danger by The Manson Family.

The way Cliff and Rick end up playing a part in the fictional retelling of the infamous night of August 9th, 1969 is a subversive twist that should be welcomed by anyone who knows the gristly details of the real-life events. It’s refreshingly un-sensationalist, but if you’re going to make a movie that taps into an event that changed the way the late 60s were remembered, it may need more than what is offered in this outing.

I’m in love with the way Sharon Tate gets her happy ending here (I’ve thought about her a lot lately while researching The Manson Family). And Margot Robbie does her best to bring Tate’s sunshine persona to screen.

Unfortunately, she’s used as eye candy a bit more than I would’ve liked. And I don’t believe the scene where Tate gets to watch herself on a cinema screen with an audience who adored her was the time or place for Tarantino to flex the fact he can shove feet into any shot he wants for his own fetishising reasons. The amount of feet-focused shots have been exaggerated by online chatter, but they’re often distracting and out of place.

There’s a certain repetition with how Tarantino sours his own work. In most of his movies, his signature explosive gall is exactly what we’re looking for. So when the sometimes offensive – and often bold – scenes roll they work in tandem with what the film is doing tonally. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, however, is probably his most “about something” film, and it’s clear it’s new territory. This was a difficult story to navigate, even for a veteran director.

Jackie Brown fans will be pleased to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood takes the scenic route, with a more laidback character-focused approach. It’s just not as nuanced or piercing as I had hoped for. I felt for the mushy and humourous Rick Dalton a lot, but what could’ve been a touching ode to bygone stars is often traded for comedy.

Even though Tarantino’s appreciation of the craft of filmmaking is still represented through Dalton’s trials and tribulations, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood seems more wanting of laughs than having you bask in the soft glow of Hollywood has-beens and the end of an era. There’s a fine balance of drama and comedy, but the film could have benefitted from slight tipping of the scales in favour of more earned emotion.

The revisionist history we’ve all heard so much about is all over pretty quickly and is best described as a comedic set-piece. I’m not going to be one of those people who’re all “I can’t believe Cliff hurt the murderers!”, but it feels as if the violent finale lacked thought and that Tarantino simply wanted a loud, roaring ending to reward us for sitting through dialogue-heavy car rides.

As much as Tarantino strays from his usual scripting here, his tendency to say a whole lot without really saying anything hangs over the film. It could’ve been so much more.

I would’ve liked to have spent more time with the film’s women. Even if only to see some evidence of just how much Manson’s girls had been corrupted. The female characters in this movie are coded rather predictably: you feel sorry for them, hate them, or are supposed to eye them up. The young men making sexual hand gestures in the seats next to me during one scene certainly thought so.

Tarantino feels fine condemning the awful girls belonging to Manson’s cult, but he’s still gonna throw in lots of ass shots so we don’t have to analyse further past the idea of ‘hot and bad’. We’re to hate them, but we’re also supposed to want to fuck them because they’re hot – probably underage – teen girls. That’s not complicated at all, right?

And remember, as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood so deftly implies, it’s hard to know a girl’s age. She either looks older than she is, or she’s promiscuous and lies about it. Manson was a statutory rapist, FYI – not unlike another man in this film.

I walked into Once Upon a Time in Hollywood fully expecting to love Rick and Cliff’s bromance. I did like Rick a lot, but have no idea what Cliff was meant to represent or be. And the half-assed implying of him having maybe killed his wife (another comedically framed moment of violence) was meant to make me like him more, apparently?

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