Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★

This is what everyone who has ever criticized a Tarantino film was talking about.

Sure, we all know the guy's filmography is comprised of works that are excessive, bloated, overlong, and over the top, but for most of them, that's all been part of the charm. There's no doubt that Tarantino has done an almost unparalleled job of breaking conventions, crafting his own distinct style, and making typical negatives work for him as positives. Even a behemoth like The Hateful Eight worked beautifully because 1) It was really fucking entertaining, and 2) The actors could all play off each other at any second. In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, both points are so null and void that Tarantino himself couldn't find them if he rammed his head even further up his rectal cavity. It is a shining example of how maybe those screenplay books that tell you what NOT to do in your screenplay maybe have some merit. It is easily his worst film not named Death Proof - and yes, I realize this site has complained at length about how underrated that one is, so much so that it's almost become overrated. But I digress.

Speaking of digressing, that's pretty much what every waking moment of this film is. Every character superficially "represents" something thematically, and there are interesting ideas to be explored, but the screenplay doesn't actually care to delve into any of them. Rather than watching a movie, it feels like we're just hooked up to Tarantino's brain and are seeing a collage of all his masturbation material. I'm only half kidding here - it's like every other scene is an old Hollywood re-creation, a full length drive, a reference to something obscure, or a conversation where the feet in the scene have more personality. There is no shape, no form, no connecting tissue justifying these tediously long scenes - scenes that outstay their welcome both in and of themselves and in the greater context of the story. Tarantino is at his best when his characters are in the same room. Here, it's so disjointed and lethargic, the dialogue is shockingly wooden, and you are given few reasons to care about these characters and their relationships to each other. You even start to forget that Rick and Cliff are collaborators and there's supposed to be some sort of heartwarming story between them. Rather than play on the audience's knowledge of these characters inevitably uniting, the film (and its press tour) instead draws a false equivalence between "day in the life" and lack of structure. It's like when people argue that documentaries represent objective truth - when you're making a "day in the life" film, just like when making a doc, you still have to make conscious choices about structure, character, momentum, editing, and the general connectivity of scenes and ideas. "Day in the life" can't just stand on its own as an excuse for everything. It just seems like they don't even try here. It's flat in every aspect - usually I can take away something memorable from his films, but that's sorely lacking here.

It's undeniably entertaining when everyone comes together at the end, but where does it even come from? Why, other than a loose adherence to real life, are we watching this meaningless escalation? It's just such a goddamn shame because you know this cast can kill - forget the main cast, even supporters like Timothy Olyphant are some of the best actors in the game when it comes to working with dialogue. This is of course not to discount the work of Pitt and DiCaprio in this film, both of whom are great (Pitt especially) - Robbie is predictably underused. I'm still giving this two stars because of the performances and because there are scenes I do like, but overall, it's not good. To use the director's own words recently in a ReelBlend podcast interview: "Me being me, I'm so ridiculously invested in the media en media of the movie, almost even more than I am to the soul of what the true story is supposed to be." Kudos for liking what you like, Mr. Tarantino, but that's your big issue right there. When I look at this film as a whole, there is a sad, gaping disconnect when I think about what this film could've been and what it is in reality: Tarantino using his clout to ramble on and on for three hours, when he'd be better suited to just starting a podcast as the rest of us re-watch Inglourious Basterds.


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