Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★½

From my Tarantino Ranked article, which runs tomorrow:

This is the closest Tarantino has ever come to making a hangout movie. Unlike his other films, no one here is in a hurry to get anywhere. All the dramatic tension comes from the Manson Family lurking at the edges of the narrative, but the focus of the story is really on three people just trying to make their way in 1969 Los Angeles. You’ve got Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a washed-up TV actor struggling to find whatever parts he can; Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Rick’s amiable stunt double who has been drubbed out of the industry for his own reasons; and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who represents the future of Hollywood and, as history tells us, a future that was never realized because she, along with three of her friends and her unborn child, were slaughtered by the Manson Family.

For Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood represents a last hurrah of sorts, and it’s clear he’s looking at the industry today as it marks a transition to streaming to the transition he sees from one age of Hollywood to another in 1969. You can feel the kinship he feels with Rick and Cliff, and while there’s no enmity towards Sharon, he also keeps her at a distance. We never really learn who she is or what she wants beyond being a rising star and a pleasant person, and so our loyalties are with Rick and Cliff, old-timers who are seeing the world pass them by and want to find a way to keep doing what they love. And the film just kind of ambles around them in a way that may not have much momentum but is still pleasant and enjoyable.

But there’s still the Sharon Tate of it all, and that’s where I get hung up with this movie. Maybe it will work better on repeat viewings, but for now, the ending sticks in my craw. I won’t spoil anything since the film just came out, but it’s clear that Tarantino doesn’t quite know how to resolve the ugly reality with his pleasant Hollywood, so he opts for the fairy tale, which has its advantages, but also comes with a guilty feeling. Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood is always asking you to escape into Tarantino’s id, but by the time the film reaches its closing credits, you feel like you’ve overstayed your welcome.