matthew danger lippman’s review published on Letterboxd:
Phenomenal. The level of unreality Tarantino works with in this thing is truly gobsmacking. Fellow 90s Postmodern Posterboy David Foster Wallace once opined that, while Tarantino "is interested in watching somebody's ear getting cut off, David Lynch is interested in the ear." The attitude has become shorthand for Tarantino dismissal. May I suggest: in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, Tarantino finally stops to look into the ear.
Unexpected that Tarantino would finally stop to really make a movie about Movies, but the results are sublime. Here is an epic that both subverts and embodies the strictures of its form. A film in which Leo DiCaprio gets to Method out onscreen, then forget his line once you've started to get sucked in. A film in which Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate watching the real Sharon Tate act onscreen. Later on, Leo watches himself on TV and cracks wise with his buddy. The interplay between "real life" and "film" blend together in a hallucinatory and provocative way that encourages a re-read on Tarantino's entire ethos.
Where INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and DJANGO UNCHAINED had actors playing toughs, HOLLYWOOD has actors playing actors playing toughs. By the end, these actors have become what they play, wrestling the narrative away from its natural course (the course of actual American history) to save the day. This ending is no mere trick a la BASTERDS; faced with the unbearable brutality of history, Tarantino opts to embody the old-school filmic form and let the heroes win. That these "heroes" are actors using the skills of the filmic trade to do so is worth ruminating on.
Hard to make all of this make sense, especially without spoiling too much, but this feels like the first Tarantino film to acknowledge its own artificiality. In doing so it transcends mere kitsch and, in my eyes, becomes a beautiful statement on the simultaneous glory and inanity of Film. This movie has a happy ending because movies have happy endings. Anyone looking for realism has to walk out of the theater.
SPOILER::::: And another word on the ending. While the violence, combined with the Manson girl's thesis (that film teaches the culture violence, and that that is morally irresponsible and worthy of punishment), struck me initially as reactionary, consider the punchline: Rick Dalton kills her with the flamethrower he was given and taught how to use while MAKING A MOVIE. Her thesis is proven quite literally true. So either Tarantino is fessing up, or denying in a way that is categorically, surreally absurd. Either way, I laughed a lot.