Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★

Before going to see this, I did something I never do: I looked up the plot summary on Wikipedia. I needed to know whether I was going to be watching Sharon Tate get Sexy Murdered because there are just some things I don't need in my life. Anyway Wikipedia informed me that there would be a huge brawl at the Spahn Ranch in which Sharon would do kung fu and Manson would be killed, and I was like "HUH, that's bonkers but OK." Needless to say that's not what happens and I was very perplexed when the film ended. This is all just to explain what might be a weird reaction to this film, although I've had 24 hours to let it sit now and I don't expect to walk any of this back.

I thought I would be lukewarm on this; instead I loved some parts and really hated others, so I averaged this out to three stars. I have zero feelings about Dicaprio as a human or an actor but I genuinely loved his performance and the way his character was written. It's a very small character arc but he hits all the beats in a way I found both affecting and hilarious.

What I hated, a lot, was Brad Pitt's character. Everything about it reads as a massive, embarrassing, unintentional self-own. The only function of the Cliff character is to be the coolest guy in the room and to provoke uncool outbursts from everyone around him. We're supposed to like him, not IN SPITE of the fact that he got away with literal murder, but BECAUSE of it. There's no question who we're supposed to root for in the scene where Zoe Bell reams him out after he beats up Bruce Lee (more on that fucking travesty in a sec). I have no idea if Tarantino meant this as a rebuttal to Uma Thurman's damning story about how he treated her on the set of Kill Bill, and I don't really care; it's almost more embarrassing if he did it unconsciously. This is a character that encourages you as a viewer to be superficial, to only see the tough guy with the chiseled jaw and to lose our fucking shit over him with either desire or competitive fury or both. And if this was a James Bond movie, that would be fine! But it's not and I expected more from Tarantino.

And I can't overstate how uncomfortable I was sitting in a theater full of people belly-laughing at this punching bag portrayal of Bruce Lee. I was too confused to even be offended; I just kept not laughing, as if that would somehow signal to everyone else that they shouldn't be laughing either, because why the fuck would you dunk on Bruce Lee of all people, ESPECIALLY when he's a) the only person of color in your whole fucking movie, and b) universally acknowledged to have been a giant badass? Do we not like Bruce Lee anymore??? I knew via Wikipedia that Cliff would come out on top but it genuinely never occurred to me that Bruce Lee would be the one real life person to get unflatteringly caricatured when everyone else has a rosy halo. I just can't begin to get my mind around this choice, and I don't really want to.

ETA: I can't stop thinking of ways this movie could have been better (or at least ways I would have liked it more). What if the Cliff character had been played by an actual stuntman? What if he'd actually gotten to do some stunts? I know it sounds like I'm mad at the movie for not being a different kind of movie, but Tarantino of all people can get a fun performance out of a non-actor (Zoe Bell!) Then you wouldn't need the convoluted explanation for why he can't be on set.

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