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.

A film about characters that paradoxically has more to say about its creator than its characters. Tarantino's reverence for the age of film, TV and pop culture that inspired Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is undoubtedly palpable, with its setting, people and events mostly rooted in historical accuracy. Tarantino uses that prior knowledge to not only play with audience expectations, as he can't help but do, but in an effort to humanize Sharon Tate. The dramatic irony involved with her character evokes a quality similar to Laura Palmer in Fire Walk With Me, charging every scene of hers with an added emotional weight. The quiet walks, the tender closeups, the carefree dancing. It is the most thoughtful depiction of a person in a Tarantino film since The Bride.

But this movie isn't really about Sharon Tate, and unlike Fire Walk With Me, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood can't settle with just being about Sharon Tate. I've read that the movie also serves as an autocritique of Tarantino's own work, interrogating his (and our) relationship with violence as a means of entertainment. By eschewing its use for most of the film, it makes the brutal climactic confrontation with the Manson cult more jarring, marked by Tarantino almost inserting himself diegetically through a TV set: “And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for!” The aftermath gives us a perverse fairytale ending with a tragic undercurrent, resolving the film's internal conflict by celebrating the Jake Cahills of that era through violence - another Tarantino movie that examines its function head-on via its interplay in fiction and historical reality.

It would be naive to think Tarantino hasn't been making auteurist works for his entire career. Even though this is more restrained and relaxed, it is ultimately, distinctly one of his films - with that same overbearing grip manifesting in feet and ideology. It renders itself pointless when it it's no longer about its characters pointlessly wandering about, showing he is incapable of not smothering the canvas with his own idiosyncrasies and personal fantasies. This reinforces how his characters have always been archetypes, stand-ins for approximations of other actors or ideas originating from his fervent love of the medium, serving a highly specific purpose. The only real character in a Quentin Tarantino film is Quentin Tarantino. And what an exhausting character he can be.

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