Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★

(I have recently seen the light on this film and now vehemently disagree with almost every word written here. But I'll leave it up to show my previous ignorance and how one is capable of change)

This one hurts. 2019 has been chockfull of disappointments thus far, but the last thing I expected was for this to be the most disappointing of them all. How can a film from one of the top working director’s, staring three phenomenal actors anger me this much? This truly feels like Tarantino’s The Phantom Menace, where he has garnered such acclaim that no one is willing to stand up to him and say no. The whole film plays out like an almost 3-hour rambling of his thoughts about the love he has for the “Good-ole days” of Hollywood. Starting by using the first two-thirds of the film to tell a “day in the life” story about when Rick Dalton realizes his time has come in Hollywood. And using the last third as way of showing his acceptance of it? I’m not sure because that never goes anywhere because the film seemingly isn’t this, so instead we just watch scene after scene (with some of the worst narration I’ve heard in a film) of this and we never get any payoff to anything that’s built up. This day is intercut with scenes Sharon Tate (who’s whole purpose in the film is still a complete mystery to me) watching her movie in a theater, and Rick’s Stunt Double/Gopher Cliff Booth exploring the Manson cult (another overly long scene that again leads to no payoff). We just watch these characters live a fairly insignificant day in their lives that’s somehow supposed to connect to a day six months later where Tate is to be murdered. And there’s no real arc to follow here for anyone. All it does is to set up a back story for the ‘fun’ 15-minute gore-fest at the end that doesn’t conclude anything from what we’ve sat through for so long by that point. So what’s the point in all of this? Why should we care about these characters? What purpose does the altering of history serve for this story? This movie just leaves me with so many questions that it just infuriates me more and more as a continue thinking about it.

Just to not sound completely negative on this I will say that there were some enjoyable aspects to the film. Brad Pitt’s performance is a huge standout and he’s just so fun to watch. The cast of characters are interesting in their scenes when you don’t consider their insignificance to the story as a whole (like the inclusion of the Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen, and Charles Manson characters is laughably pointless). The other actors are fine. A lot of the shots are very well executed. But those really are minimum expectations for a director with as prolific a career as Tarantino and doesn’t make the movie in anyway enjoyable.

I get the feeling that Tarantino’s vision for the film is to present the clash of Old vs. New Hollywood that came about in the late-60s. With Rick representing the old, worn out Hollywood. While Sharon Tate represented the new, upcoming Hollywood. And while that idea is interesting not enough of it is presented in the story to make that feel in anyway compelling. Especially because Tate’s existence here is seemingly only for the unfortunate circumstances that are were to come to here (at least in actuality). Another apparent theme is the true friendship between Rick and Cliff, but that too is not explored anywhere near enough to actually resonate and is their ‘arc’ is left on such a weird note by the end it makes the whole thing make even less sense.

While I was never the biggest Tarantino fan, I still whole-heartedly he’s one of the best directors working today. And up until this point I feel he had yet to make a bad film. Which is why this is such an even bigger disappointment. But I don’t doubt that he’s still got what it takes to keep making great films. On to the next one I guess.

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