Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★

As close as we’ll ever get to a Tarantino fantasy epic, for better or worse. Once Upon works best as a nostalgic slice o’ life Hollywood tale, where we’re simply palling around with Cliff Booth and Rick Dalton as they go through the low-stakes motions of quotidian life in a land of absurdity, Booth the pragmatic outsider, Dalton the forlorn has-been. Sure, QT coasts a good bit—once you take away an overarching plot his reliance on monologues and sequences of people driving while jammin’ out to some bitchin’ tunes sure does start to feel like self-indulgent filler*—but at least the deep-seated misanthropy of his last few films is toned down, bottled up until the cork gets popped during the third act. Once Upon is enjoyable, in other words, which is pretty much the opposite of how I would describe Django or Hateful Eight.

Still, there’s something funky going on here, be it the weird bait-and-switch of Sharon Tate’s role in the narrative, or the odd editing style (another reviewer compared it to The Family Guy, which is apt), or that sanguineous final sequence, which shows Tarantino has lost the ability to resolve a story without resorting to graphic violence. It’s a shame, really; Tarantino, more than any other active filmmaker, has the wherewithal to craft an incisive, acerbic, heartfelt ode to irrelevance in the face of the Hollywood mythos, and for a good portion of the film (the good portion of the film), he does. But for a couple decades now QT has been coalescing into a pile of quirks and fetishes, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood falters as soon as he allows these idiosyncrasies to take over.

*Well, more than usual.

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