Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★★

A culturally conservative film, bordering on reactionary, that I nonetheless adored precisely because it tickled the conservationist in me, namely my nostalgia for the Hollywood studio system in its heyday. The film is "a loving dramatization of the power of certain kinds of actors, in conjunction with writers-directors and, above all, an entire system of production, to deliver them," writes Richard Brody in his pan of Tarantino's latest (a worthwhile read full of legitimate critique, even if I do find his insistence that the film, an unabashed and fantastical love letter to a bygone era of cinematic myth-making, do the work of rebuking that which it so loves to be an unfair burden on the filmmakers).

It's true, this movie is powered by what for years was Hollywood's most dependable renewable resource: the star. Brad and Leo do what I see as career-best work here. Those who know me know I'm no fan of DiCaprio, but even I have to admire his willingness to self-deprecate; the man has always been best in roles that invite us to laugh at him (see: The Wolf of Wall Street). If you haven't seen it yet, you've probably at least heard of the scene between Rick and a child actress by the name of Trudi Fraser. This scene sees Leo and his famous writer-director at their most vulnerable: prodded by Trudi's questioning, an insecurity-riddled Rick recounts the plot of the dimestore Western he's been reading and, in the telling, is overcome with the realization that these pulp fictions that even he is quick to dismiss as inconsequential, empty-headed fluff can be fraught with as much meaning and emotional resonance as any great work of art, and maybe even moreso for their unassuming simplicity. This scene is, for my money, the best Tarantino's written since at least the opening of Inglourious Basterds, probably longer.

Meanwhile, Leo's co-star, Pitt, ticks just about every box a '60s era star should in his portrayal of stuntman Cliff Booth. Being a never-was, Cliff is more adaptable to the changing times than Rick: he's laid-back and carefree, a good dog owner, and really quite hot (the crowd from my first screening broke into applause when Pitt strips off his shirt while working on the antenna). At the same time, there exists a dangerously explosive element beneath that sheen of '60s cool that keeps one from ever getting too comfortable with the man. It's a contentious character, one sure to provoke intense conversation, but the mega-wattage of Pitt's ineffable charisma cannot be denied. Let's get this man an Oscar, shall we?

You may have heard Margot Robbie doesn't have much screen time and that's true. The film's version of Sharon Tate is one-dimensional by design. In Tarantino's 1969, Tate becomes an icon of an innocent Hollywood, the patron saint of every young ingenue who came to Hollywood to be a star and saw her dream start to come true. It's certainly not a role anyone would label feminist-forward, but she is the soul of the movie and Margot lets Sharon come to her. In a movie chock full of greatly entertaining performances, I do actually believe that Margot's is the best of the bunch for how she avoids editorializing in the typical Hollywood biopic way. What she shows us is the joy of being a star, a huge element of movie stardom that seldom is recognized in stories of stardom. Watching her bop and groove to the joyful rhythms of life was genuinely moving; in fact, I shed a few tears by film's end. Never in a million years did I imagine I might cry watching a Tarantino movie but here we are.

I'll leave it there for now because this is the kind of movie I could talk about forever. I'm seeing it again tonight--a friend asked to see it and who am I to say no to a friend?--so I'm sure I'll have more to report soon. Tune in next time for a full ranking of the feet in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Margot's dirty ass feet being the clear number one).

PS saw it at Tarantino's LA theatre, the New Beverly, aka the best theatre in LA. Check it out if you're ever in town.

kmarus liked these reviews