Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★

Hey! You're Rick fuckin' Dalton, don't you forget it.

(Seen in 70mm at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.)

To lift one particular thought on the film from the podcast Filmspotting (Which is utterly brilliant if you don't listen to it.) there is an intriguing conservative narrative that seems to be going on in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The word "conservative" and what it entails in the modern, "Post-Trump" America is a little different from the kind of conservatism in the movie. This kind all stems from a sense of nostalgia. Not just looking back fondly on times that have passed by, but pondering if something was perhaps lost in the wind. Both with the loss in Vietnam, and more pertaining to the film's narrative, the infamous Manson murders that rocked the American foundation of security and class. This was an era where everyone watched the same television shows and listened to the same radio stations. If a movie was big, everyone saw it, and everyone talked about it. The modern sense, or at least effort, of diversity in modern Hollywood is of course a great and welcome change, yet Tarantino perhaps can't help but look back and fantasize. Long story short, if you want to look at Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as a "Make Show Business Great Again" story, I can't really stop you.

Even above that possible reading of the film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as its name would suggest, is a bit of a fairy tale. An attempt of reclamation for fleeting fame. Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth aren't bitter movie men as much as they are more simply melancholic. This Hollywood is kind to you so long as they can find use for you as the leading man/woman. Get a little too old or too big for your britches, there's always gonna be another Rick or Cliff to replace and keep the cogs in the entertainment machine going. A lot of the joy from the film just comes from seeing either men drive around 1969 Los Angeles, the windows down, the sun shining, and hits from the radio blaring. If you're someone who enjoys the hangout nature of Jackie Brown, you're in luck because this is next to that easily Tarantino's most laid-back feature. Frankly, and here's the kicker, the film's even relaxing, and uh, heartwarming? Never in a million years thought a Quentin Tarantino film could ever be described with that latter term, but here we are.

So to answer perhaps the most burning question audience members would have going into the film, yes, Sharon Tate and her story is treated with a lot of respect. She has less of a presence than I was expecting going in, and this is not really a Tate or Manson family story. But, when she is on-screen, Margot Robbie is ethereal in beauty and magnetic with pure, optimistic energy. If Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a fairy tale, Sharon Tate is the "fair maiden." As for the Manson perspective, they are effectively unsettling. To go against some of what's being said by some about the film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is not an anti-hippie narrative. It's against a specific type of hippie. The kind of "hippie" the members of the Manson family are. Folks that claimed to be pro "peace and love" and anti-fascism, yet were anything but what they claimed. We now know the Manson family were brainwashed into a narrative bringing forth nothing but carnage and hatred. Which, uh, leads to something.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is rather indulgent. It moves at a slow pace, giving its time to characters just doing their job or talking about their job. For being from a director always associated with violence, there is little violence to speak of in the film. That is, until the last about twenty minutes or so of the feature. Without giving any specifics away, Quentin goes into a little bit of "revisionist history" akin to the insanity present in Inglorious Basterds. Throughout his filmography, Tarantino has given us some of the most graphic, either terrifying or wholly satisfying bursts of violence in modern film. I am not at all exaggerating when I say Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may have his greatest, goriest, and most emotionally exhilarating and satisfying burst of violence ever. It's a finale I'll be hard pressed to see topped this year overall, or by Tarantino whenever he gets behind the camera again. I really can't go into details because of spoilers. Just know this: This is an 8.5/10 feature with an 11/10 ending. That's what I got to say about that.

This is lower tier Tarantino, standing at least for now as my second least-favorite feature he's made, but to repeat a statement I've repeated in a previous review, saying something about "lower tier Tarantino" is like saying "Oh, this ice cream is less tasty than this other batch of ice cream." At the end of the day, you're still eating ice cream, and it's fucking delicious, and better than most other food out there. Both Leo and Pitt are unquestionably getting accolades for their performances, and they deserve it. Leo goes a little more exaggerated, yet I think I enjoy Pitt's reserve on display a tad more. Pitt was born to play Cliff. If this ends up being the movie that finally earns Quentin a Best Picture Oscar, just about every other film he's made deserved it more, but beggars can't be choosers. If you want a trip through a half-century old wonderland, good jams blaring in the background, and cool characters aplenty to keep you company, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is here for a good time. Rick fuckin' Dalton.


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