Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★½

Included in the list:
The Director Series I: Cinema of Quentin Tarantino

In his tenth major film Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino finds himself abandoning his old tricks that made him “THE” Quentin. Hollywood is arguably his most mature offering with more nuanced characterizations since Jackie Brown. Set in late 1960s Hollywood, the film follows several storylines that surround a washed-up movie star and his stuntman with the juxtaposition of Sharon Tate and the real-life Manson murders. As this is Tarantino’s fantasy of what “should have” happened, I couldn’t help but feel emotionally disengaged with his handling of this film.

Unlike many of his reckless, aggressively playful and extravagant films, Hollywood has more laidback energy with meandering, unnecessary scenes that doesn’t really buildup to the overall outcome. Tarantino overplays the nostalgia and milieu to the point of disengagement and predictability. The scenes are scattered with inconsistent tonal registers which resulted in flat impact. His classic, rapid-fire dialogue in between his colorful characters is nowhere to be found, but rather self-serving narcissists blabbering what serves themselves and nothing else. With the exception of his treatment with Sharon Tate whose beautiful embodiment by Margot Robbie serves as the film’s emotional hook. It’s her journey that we’re on, yet Tarantino did not maximize this potential residing Tate in a more romanticized manner.

Here, Quentin’s characters are not as loud and smart as they used to. This is his most nuanced sketches of human beings, though unlike the electrifying sketches of Jackie Brown, the characters felt lethargic, and their overwritten scenes felt depreciating in its purpose. The performances pulsate with enough fervor to keep my attention. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt give movie star turns, yet Pitt is the most lived-in between the two. Robbie is underused, but her presence is felt throughout.

As much as this is technically well-equipped, I can’t help but think this might be Tarantino’s “weakest” film, not his worst. Hollywood is too scattered, too nostalgic and incongruous which is rare for his brand of cinema that I’m always used to. His best films tend to have their own personality that overcomes their massive flaws. But with this one, Tarantino has no interest in proving its own personality and so its glaring flaw stood out like a sore thumb with no justification of why we supposed to care.

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