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.

This is the first time I’ve written a review for a film that I really dislike, so please bear with me. This fear of the unknown coupled with the passionate response this movie has received has made me reluctant to share my thoughts, so I’ll try my best to tread carefully without censoring my authentic opinions.

To preface: I was PUMPED for this movie. Not only had it received some of the highest scores at Cannes while I was there, but I also really, really enjoy Tarantino’s films—particularly Reservoir Dogs and Inglorious Basterds. I don’t particularly like him as a person, especially after the whole “I reject your hypothesis” ordeal (lol), but I find him to be a truly brilliant writer who excels at crafting dialogue. His writing contains a certain wit that makes it instantly recognizable and usually seems to have a purpose. Not in every instance, of course, but when he’s good, he’s great.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way….

I’ll start with the positives: great acting (to be expected), enjoyable costuming and set design, and an ALMOST satisfying ending (I’ll come back to this later). Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff Booth, was by far my favorite of the cast, if only because he played the role so light-heartedly and never took himself too seriously. Also, the details presented and the camaraderie conveyed regarding the Manson Family, during what little screen time they had, was quite historically accurate, as well as aspects of Sharon Tate’s personal life.

Unfortunately, that list ends here.

I have many things to say, although I’m sure everything I have in mind has been said before. It took me a couple of weeks to really streamline my problems with this movie and anticipate any potential counterarguments. I will make a bullet list of my qualms followed by a brief description for clarity purposes.

Hollywood, to me, felt nothing like a Quentin Tarantino film. Like I said before, Tarantino’s films all seem to have a certain something that has accumulated over the years into his own brand, even inspiring adjectives like Tarantino-esque. While most associate the writer/director with over-the-top, almost cartoon-like violence, I believe, as I said before, that the nuances of his writing are what makes him stand out the most. I don’t necessarily think that the writing in this movie is bad, per se, but I yearned for the absurdity that he has presented in the past. I understand that this is arguably the most “normal” of his movies, and is meant to be more of a slice-of-life story than a grandiose spectacle. This is the first film I’ve seen of his in which I was more drawn to the camerawork than the events that were actually unfolding onscreen.

I was disheartened by the fact that the same man who gave us bad-ass, memorable female characters, such as Mia Wallace and Beatrix Kiddo, chose to keep the screen time of his female roles so brief. I get it, it’s a movie about an actor and his stunt double in the late 60s. I get it, Margot Robbie’s character (Sharon Tate) is purposely seldom seen and almost barely heard in order to convey her innocent, almost princess-like demeanor. But I wanted to see more of her, perhaps even watch her make mistakes. I also would’ve enjoyed seeing more of the female members of the Family, who I felt were much more interesting than the main story being told.

This film never made me feel anything, except until maybe the last 20 minutes of its nearly-three-hour-long run time. I think this is my biggest complaint about the film. I honestly felt more bored than entertained. In retrospect, I realize that this is likely because I am unable to relate to the plights of the two main male characters. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that a more interesting story could’ve been told, and am convinced that the first two hours of the film could’ve been omitted.

In contrast to his previous works of historical revision, this rewritten victory seems to only cater to the most headline-worthy aspects of the crimes, and by this, I simply mean that there is a larger scope involved than what is portrayed. The onscreen characters of the real-life murderers are (savagely) killed, which is satisfying not only symbolically but because it’s the most exciting part of the film, yet Charles Manson and the rest of the Family members are still very much alive (in the film). The lives of Sharon Tate and her houseguests are spared, but the root of the evil faces no consequence, in contrast to something like Basterds, in which both the evil mastermind AND his minions are offed. If you know anything about Manson, you know that he possessed complete control over his followers, and most of the members of the Family would be just as willing to do his bidding for him as Tex, Susan, and Linda did. As a result, this version of updated history feels much less cathartic than his previous work.

Despite not loving this film, I still respect Tarantino as a director and a writer (he as a person is a different story, lol). I’d love to see him tackle the horror genre in the future, preferably with another kick-ass female protagonist that I know he is capable of creating.

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