Paula’s review published on Letterboxd:
Once upon a time in Tarantino's mind...
"There really is no story; it's just a day after day in the life of three people and we kind of hang out with them".
That is, ipsis litteris, what Tarantino told the New Zealand Herald when asked about the movie plot. And that's not a small thing. That's something very important to take into consideration before watching this movie.
Forget the revealing, character-developing dialogue. Forget the non-linear narrative that becomes solid and makes sense in the end. Forget a solid plot. Forget a story with beginning, middle and ending, with layers and layers of meaning in every scene that could be discussed, argued about, and compared to real life. This movie is not supposed to make sense in the way all the previous Tarantino movies used to - and why? This is not a mere movie, this is a cinematic trip inside Tarantino's mind.
Tarantino said that "Once" is his "Roma", referring to the movie directed and written by Alfonso Cuarón. He's giving us the clue - just like "Roma", "Once" is as self-confessional as it gets, and, also like the Mexican movie, a cinematic experience created based on a patchwork of memories and dreams that these both directors bring with them in their minds since their childhoods. Tarantino shows us not exactly the Hollywood from the 60s, he gives us the Hollywood from the 60s the way he remembers it, felt it, and experienced it, all inside the mind of the little boy he was back then.
And oh, those were definitely beautiful memories. I must say, I guess I have never seen such impeccable work in set design like I did in "Once". I was flabbergasted by the beauty of the sets, how wonderful and immaculate they looked as if they never have changed throughout the years. The Cinerama Dome, the Playboy Mansion, and even an original Taco Bell. Not to mention the Wilshire and the Hollywood Boulevards just like they looked back then - it all made me, a woman hugely fascinated by Hollywood and Los Angeles, jaw-dropped when I saw all that old-time beauty come to life in that big screen in front of me. I'll forever applaud Barbara Ling, the production designer for that, and also praise Tarantino for showing movies from the 60s in his own house to the crew so that they knew what he was looking for, and what color palette to use.
Inside that beautiful imagination of Tarantino, not only lives a beautiful scenery but fascinating people. The characters Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are there not only to give us a glimpse of what the movie industry looked like back then, but also to give us an idea of what Quentin's childhood heroes must have looked like. Rick Dalton is a clear reference to Burt Reynolds - the iconic badass from the 60s, while Cliff Booth, being a stuntman, has the bravery and strength that many boys back then dreamed about having.
Sharon Tate in this dream represents the innocence of a lost era - Hollywood's golden age, when movie stars and acclaimed directors would casually stroll around the city fearing no danger because well, it was Hollywood, in the city of Angels, the city of Dreams. We see a sweet Sharon watching herself at the movies and amazed by how the audience was cheering for her - she came to the movies carrying a Chanel bag, but her soles were dirty - she might look like a glamorous and out-of-reach girl, but in the end she was still simple and genuine - just like old Hollywood in Tarantino's mind.
At this point, Hollywood is shown to the audience as an impeccable, flawless kingdom, menaced by the intolerance represented by the Manson Family. Here, Charles Manson the character barely has screen time, but the idea is there - there was danger and insanity inside the cult organized by Manson, and the horrible murder of Sharon Tate and her friends by the Manson family represented, by many people who experienced those times (Joan Didion, for example) - the end of an era. The end of the 1960s, with all its purity, simplicity, easygoing way of life. There came a new era of danger, anxiety, doubts - the 1970s were knocking at their doors.
Would Tarantino accept to have his dreams, his immaculate Hollywood tarnished by this disgusting event? Absolutely not. Thus, he makes Booth and Dalton crudely kill the murderers from the Manson family - in a scene that looks more like a well-deserved blood bath (even referencing the death of Elle Driver in "Kill Bill"). Yes, Tarantino gets his revenge against whoever dared to corrupt his perfect world - and fictionally murders the ones who were about to tarnish such beautiful decade.
With a perfect cast (kudos to Leo DiCaprio for showing once again what a versatile actor he is; to Brad Pitt for exuding charisma on screen; and to Margot Robbie for portraying Sharon Tate with such sweetness) and beautiful sets, Tarantino creates a fairy tale that is not only a tribute to old Hollywood, but a page from his own diary. He's opening his heart to us, he's telling us what exactly he wishes it would have happened in that August of 1969. Exactly 50 years after the terrible murder of Sharon Tate, "Once upon a time in Hollywood" is released in the United States, as Tarantino's attempt to rewrite the story, go back time, and perhaps stay forever in a place and time where everything seemed sweeter, simpler, happier.
This is definitely Tarantino's heart slashed open for us to see - with references to old Hollywood and his own movies, he not only shows the process that created the mind of Quentin Tarantino the director, but also the emotions and nostalgic sadness of a man who cannot go back to the lost golden era of his childhood. He shows his bittersweet revenge by killing, at least in fiction, the ones who were responsible for destroying his fantasy land.
I couldn't help watching the ending scene with its melancholic and fairytalelike score without thinking that this is probably the first movie by Tarantino that actually made me feel sad and pensive, nostalgic and gloomy. Honestly, no other movie by him moved me like this one - the romantic side of him is beautiful, and I wish we could see more of it. By looking at the beauty of the past, we are able to see ourselves and see where our values and dreams came from, and remember them with a smile on our faces. But when a dark event tarnishes the past, it makes all those cherished memories suddenly bittersweet - and oh, how we wish things have been different!
You can't make a movie like "Once upon a time in Hollywood" without tears, sadness, nostalgia and a lot of love inside. This movie is Tarantino's invitation into his hopeless romantic mind and his own fears - a key to understand how he wishes things have been, where he comes from and especially where he's heading to - and that is, without a doubt, a painful but beautiful path that crosses Los Angeles, the city of broken dreams.