Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★

Leaving the ninth feature film of every turn of the century junior high boy's favorite director, Quentin Tarantino, I felt as I did after watching his last several films. It was fun and well done mostly because it reminded me of all the films that influenced him. The director is always one to proudly display how much of a film nerd he is, and this time around he has passed up the grind-house stylings to pay homage to more mainstream fare. It's a refinement hinted at in Inglourius Basterds and expounded on in The Hateful Eight that I think he's reached some sort of stasis with finally. That, and he's just unabashedly displaying his foot-fetish at this point.

As you would expect, it's all an excuse for him to make fake trailers, commercials, insert modern actors into old films, and insert himself back into the world of his childhood. As he was six when his mother and he moved to Los Angeles, his earliest memories would be infused with the mise-en-scene of this movie's setting, making it, possibly, his most personal film world and work to date. His hauntological prerogative has been consuming his output since he began making films, which is fine in my book as I don't think the man has much to say, philosophically speaking. Coming in as his most understated effort since Jackie Brown, this was closer to a hangout than a structured narrative. If there is one thing you can get out of the film, it is total period immersion, which, if we're being completely honest, is not terribly interesting if you are looking for something to happen.

The film centers on the career trajectory of Rick Dalton (Leo DiCaprio) and his working friendship with stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they go about their day-to-day responsibilities in and around Hollywood. Their characters bring to mind many leading men of the time, forced to adapt to the changing fashions and whims of the industry to stay relevant after the golden years of TV cowboys and war films gave way to spaghetti westerns and biker flicks. Dalton's neighbor is Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), and as we all know what happened to her, most of the tension rests on whether or not the infamous Charles Manson family will get involved with our characters or not. Since I don't want to give away any of the later act events, I will simply say that the movie isn't really about that historical incident so much as it is about actors and acting.

As Dalton struggles to find a future in the industry and wrestles with his mid-life crisis, Booth wanders about the periphery of LA, languishing in the scenery. Aside from being a right-hand man, the irony of his character is that he's a bit of a real-life cowboy in any situation he enters, walking the walk where Dalton must be coddled and assured by others of his worth. Then on the other side of town, we have Tate, the proto-pixie dream girl traversing the town, carefree, and wide-eyed. We get to see her casually going to see one of her latest roles in a theater as she hasn't fully risen to wild stardom, and she gets to see the people she entertains. It's a subtle and surprisingly touching sequence that many have called a love letter to the late actress, and it's certainly more tastefully done than that abysmal Hillary Duff film The Haunting of Sharon Tate.

As there's still some flourishes of extreme violence, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is an unmistakably Tarantino film. Whether you can dig that is entirely up to your specific tastes, but be warned this isn't a politically progressive film or profound in any sense. It's basically a celebration of the past and, as the title suggests, a fairy tale about a dirty, florid, and sometimes glamorous time since come and gone. Now let's just get that Tarantino Star Trek movie up and going, huh?

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