Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★

Of all the things I expected this movie to be, if you told me it was ‘Quentin Tarantino makes a tone poem about Hollywood’ then I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But alas, here we are. 

This movie is slow, it is long, it is aimless, and it’s self indulgent to a fault- keep in mind none of these things are inherently bad, but they’re all true. I can certainly see why this seems to be the most divisive movie of the year thus far amongst the people I follow on Letterboxd. Not to mention QT’s reputation and infamousness proceeds him. No, I didn’t see this in theaters, I watched a cam of it online because I have my own personal gripes with Tarantino that have nothing to do with this movie, but I don’t feel comfortable supporting him, which makes this an odd case because this movie makes me WISH I liked him.

To avoid going into a thousand world long digression about my relationship with Tarantino and his films, and trust me, I could, I’ll just say it’s been complicated because I feel like I dislike the man more and more as the years go on, but his movies are something that have lodged themselves in my mind forever. They’re important to me, a lot of them are movies I could watch every single day, Kill Bill And Hateful Eight being prominent examples of such films. But none of that matters, because now we have this oddball in his filmography that I’m still not done digesting. 

The best thing about the movie is that it’s practically structureless. It’s sort of a slow paced hangout movie that ebbs and flows by the will of the characters and nothing else, and I’m glad it exists simply because in theory, it’s a great idea, and in execution, surprise surprise, it’s pretty great. It’s a movie that feels a lot like Ingloruous Basterds, a movie I love a whole lot but often cite as being a better Tarantino highlight reel than a movie, which is true to some extent, but the connective tissue here feels a bit more substantive. Some of the more dramatic beats of the film right before the third act hits feel a bit empty because they sorta sideline the vibe of the movie that was so well-established beforehand, but it all builds and leads to something unexpected and mesmerizing. It’s not quite on the level of Pulp Fiction where every conversation carries the momentum of the entire movie in its own special disjointed way, but I can say I was never really bored. I was always learning something about the characters, always appreciating something about the technique, or marveling at some of the career best performances. DiCaprio in particular delivers, and I cannot stress this enough, my favorite work of his to date, he’s best used when he’s not entirely in ‘dramatic mode’ the whole time, and here we get a solid mix of comedy and drama that build a vivid character portrait. Even Pitt, who, writing wise, doesn’t have much to work with, lends his charisma to the role in a way that really carries his scenes.

The actual filmmaking isn’t as aggressively stylized, but I found myself seeing a lot of things that made this movie stand out. The abundance of crane shots and long takes that glide over the settings and follow our characters really paint a vivid portrait of the environment the film is moreso about than anything else. This is, as you’ve seen everywhere, a love letter to the idea of movies and Hollywood, embodied by Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate as well as the fantastically authentic-feeling set design. Sometimes the narrative and characters do feel a little TOO loose upon reflection, but there’s always an anchor to move the movie forward in the form of our two leads, save for one scene in the aforementioned pre-third act segment that feels like it goes on wayyyy too long, but upon revision, my thoughts could change, since I’m not used to Tarantino stretching things out like this while taking a more minimal approach, it may just be a matter of expectations set by the rest of his career, but it still matches the piece tonally, so I felt it was mostly appropriate. The camerawork, editing and lighting is also very on point, but very nicely compliments everything else, very reminiscent of Jackie Brown in a lot of ways. I do wish that more time was spent on Cliff and Rick’s relationship, as they spend a lot of the movie apart, and I feel it would’ve made some elements of the film work a bit more later. 

Like I said, I’m not done processing it all, but I can certainly say I enjoyed the hell outta this, and you can consider my score as a placeholder since I’m not entirely sure what my issues with it are, or even, if I have any. Most Tarantino movies really find themselves for me upon rewatch, as rewatchability is one of my favorite things about his filmography. If this all sounds vague, that’s because it is, I’ll be more defitinite about it upon rewatch. The runtime is intimidating and the pace is slow, but it’s all a matter of preference. Like a lot of contentious movies I review on here, I can say it wasn’t for everyone, but it was certainly for me.

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