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.

Listening to Quentin Tarantino being interviewed can be a chore. Too often he's awkwardly hyper, unable to "read the room," prone to telling inappropriate anecdotes that drag on, and hold a laugh longer than he should. At their worst, his films replicate these cringeworthy tendencies. Though he's known for being an expert at writing dialog, on occasion (Kill Bill vol. 2, Death Proof, Hateful Eight) his scripts' perchance for repeating cumbersome phrases, favoring clunky puns or rhymes, and homogenizing every character's cadence have yielded results that come off like a try hard, overly rich meal; it may satisfy at first, but after awhile the taste becomes overpoweringly strong.

Once Upon a Time. . .in Hollywood is almost entirely absent of those flaws. In fact, for nearly it's entire runtime, the film's languid, contemplative, introspective tone and pace are unlike anything else Tarantino has made (though Jackie Brown is pretty close). He largely avoids dynamic, stylized angles and camera moves, as well, showing a restraint and maturity that he has not previously revealed. Generally, there is no external conflict, mystery, McGuffin, or plot machination to propel characters forward, only internal, existential struggles and richly embodied characterizations. Until the last thirty to forty minutes, I was raptly riding the steady tide of these character's lives.

But the climax retroactively sours much of that experience. It's no secret that the film's themes involve topics of aging, generational shifts, and fading relevance. Tarantino uses Western iconography to - at separate times - represent an overlap between deflated celebrity and masculinity as well as a paradigm shift in American culture; the cowboys of Spahn Ranch have been replaced by lanky, greasy teenage cultists; Rick Dalton's leather cowboy boots are, on separate occasions, replaced in the frame by or contrasted against high heels, stained bare feet, or Sharon Tate's mod white boots. All of this is to suggest that archetypal male celebrity/heroes are becoming irrelevant in a changing mediascape and culture. And while it seems like the film will only confirm this further with its conclusion, Tarantino swerves (in ways I both did and did not see coming) to reaffirm the masculine hero; ACTUALLY they are still relevant and CAN "save the damsel," so to speak. Boys still get to be boys, in a fairytale version of New Hollywood that's going to end up being the same as Old Hollywood. Where it first seemed like Tarantino had confidently suppressed his proclivities, he was only building pressure to vomit them out in a last minute spew.

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