Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

It seemed like there was more mystery surrounding this than the last few QT movies. Not just how he’d go about the Manson/Tate material but the logline suggested a much more sprawling film than we’ve seen from him in a while. Having seen it, it indeed wriggles out of an easy categorization unlike most of his work. Reservoir Dogs is the Heist Gone Awry, the hotshot debut; Jackie Brown is a reworking of blaxploitation, a romance, and a “one more score” picture; Kill Bill his revenge saga, but also an amalgam of samurai films and westerns; Death Proof is equal parts slasher, autocritique, and car movie; Basterds a paean to his beloved WWII men-on-a-mission movies; Django his spaghetti western; and The Hateful Eight an inclement weather drawing room mystery, Reservoir Dogs Redux.

The closest structural analogue within his career is Pulp Fiction, his sui generis moment and, not coincidentally, his most enduring, iconic film. A bricolage of crime movie clichés upended, unlike anything before or since, ending where it begins. A perfect circle. Hollywood weaves a similar tapestry but what it really shares with that film is an aching, boyish nostalgia. In Pulp Fiction, it’s by osmosis. The way the characters act, the way they talk — Tarantino surrogates mimicking his predilections. But he’s matured and slowed down over the years. (As much as Tarantino can mature or slow down.) The closer he gets to this mythical, halcyon era, the more real his creations feel. The coterie of gangsters and lowlifes in Pulp Fiction are larger-than-life archetypes, whereas the stars of Hollywood are his most flesh-and-blood, down-to-earth people since Jackie Brown and Max Cherry.

Brown would be the spiritual comparison here: wistful, elegiac, relaxing. Both are hangout movies and romances of sorts. (Cliff is described as “more than a brother, less than a wife” to Rick.) And just on a superficial level, it boasts the same dazzling luxuriance. (No doubt this will play better at home where you can pause the movie to crack open the last of your sixer.) Not since QT’s 90’s output have we experienced the casual thrill of simply driving your car around. It isn’t a perfect movie by any means (still mulling over the Sharon Tate threads despite Robbie’s ebullient turn) but it’s more or less The Only Movie of 2019. Tarantino made a movie about the death of an era right as ours is doing the same damn thing.

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