Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★½

I wanted to say a few more words about the intersection between four female characters. It’s not until Trudi (Julia Butters) appears that this through line starts to take shape. When talking about his TV character, Rick says he thinks his name is pronounced as “Dakota.” Given that he’s speaking to a child actor, we might think of Dakota Fanning, who had her first starring role at age seven, opposite Sean Penn in 2001’s I Am Sam. When Dakota Fanning appears later in the film as Squeaky, a tenuous connection is clear.

In appearing as Squeaky—covered in dirt, sweat caked on—Fanning most recalls her role in Hounddog, the 2007 Indie that, at the time, was controversial for its sexualizing of a 13 year-old girl. It’s important to note that Fanning began in Hollywood, but from 2007 on was phased into the Indie scene because her star power as a child actor had evaporated with her maturation.

Back to Rick, who tells Trudi that “in 15 years you’ll be living” feelings of uselessness. Indeed, Fanning’s age nearly lines up perfectly with Trudie’s own 15 years down the line. In this curious meta-commentary, OUATIH recognizes that for girls turned women, obsolescence arrives much faster than it does for men, who have the ability to prolong their careers through various means.

This begs a question: why, then, isn’t Dakota Fanning cast as Sharon Tate instead of Margot Robbie? The answer is already self-evident if we follow this line of thought. OUATIH both functions within contemporary Hollywood, where star power still has modest bankability, and comments on the nature of stardom, in general. In short, Fanning’s star power is lesser than Robbie’s, so she’s relegated to the Manson clan, who exist, in part, as a grouping of children of famous people.

The most notable is Margaret Qualley as Pussycat. Qualley, daughter of Andie MacDowell, is in a middle-stage between child actor (Trudi) and “uselessness” (Squeaky, or Fanning as former child star). It’s important that Cliff harps on needing to know her age; if she’s a minor, she’s still some semblance of a child. If she’s 18, her legality makes whatever exploitation (taking advantage of her naiveté or her shaky emotional state) she might endure, whether in Hollywood or at the hands of Cliff, at least acceptable by law. To what extent we should link this exchange between Cliff and Pussycat with Roman Polanski’s rape of 13 year-old Samantha Geimer is difficult to say, but it’s certainly a real-world referent that cannot help but be invoked once these questions are raised.

These links form a quadrangle of textual and meta-narrative understandings between Trudi, Pussycat, Squeaky, and Sharon Tate that are all linked by the varying presentation of their feet. Trudie is first introduced as her feet, dressed in cowboy boots, enter the widescreen frame. In costume, Trudi is at work; the other three women are only seen at points of leisure. Pussycat’s bare feet mash against Cliff’s windshield as an assertion of her refusal to work. She occupies the same legal status as Trudi (a minor), but from the capitalist perspective of Hollywood, her body spells non-discipline and danger whereas Trudie’s ordered, craft-oriented perspectives at least momentarily shield her from a similar fate of uselessness.

The most explicit connection involves Sharon’s dirtied, bare feet as she watches The Wrecking Crew, and a quick shot of Squeaky’s feet as she sits into her recliner to watch TV. The linkage seems to be as much about the actors as the characters. Once again, Fanning, no longer the movie star, is relegated to the ranch, which also doubles as a meta version of Indie filmmaking. That explains not only why we find Lena Dunham there, but also why Qualley, daughter of the woman who starred in Sex, Lies, and Videotape, is linked with the Manson clan. In the consciousness of OUATIH, the rungs of Independent productions are meant to be scaled upward, so to speak, to the apex of Hollywood production.

That Fanning “fell,” in this spatial metaphor, makes her a tragic figure. Of course, since there are no male equivalents in the film, we can further contextualize the ridiculousness of Rick Dalton’s anxieties. We again arrive, as we do in the male bonding narrative, at a socially conservative end that is no less meaningful for its conviction: Hollywood’s (read: men‘s) systemic failure to protect its women and children.

Clayton liked these reviews