Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★★

I find it very challenging to effectively articulate my thoughts on what is perhaps Tarantino's most unique (and loose) picture to date, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood. Of course, I still think it’s a disjointed and fairly messy piece of work at points, like I thought on my initial viewing a little ways back. Yet something about it all completely just propels me into a state of pure catharsis, and I can’t help but kick back and just enjoy the utterly gorgeous spectacle at hand.

And no, I’m not a Tarantino fanboy, or at least I don’t consider myself to be one. I respect his craft and influence, but I'm just not a giant fan. Like most, I absolutely adore Pulp Fiction (1994). And I think Inglourious Basterds (2009) is pretty excellent, if flawed. Yet aside from that (and do note I still have a few movies left of his to actually see) none of his films particularly have blown me away, plain and simple. He’s not a favorite director of mine, nor do I hail each of his pictures as masterpieces, like his avid followers do.

But alas, I can’t deny it here – I think this venture of his into classic Hollywood is simply fantastic, and on a rewatch my appreciation towards it only grew. Not only is it personally my favorite Tarantino, but I’d make the argument it’s perhaps among his best.

I think, in part, this stems from the fact that this is an extremely personal movie, on a number of levels. Of course, film lovers themselves (especially those who appreciate the culture of classic Hollywood) are bound to enjoy Tarantino's painstaking revival of this world. It’s simply stunning with its impeccable detail; from the costumes, to the dialogue, it seems every tiny, seemingly microscopic aspect is on point. Even the filming and directing techniques bear some resemblance to that of classic movies. The constant allusions and references to film and film culture are also hard not to enjoy – classic posters litter every building, and frequently we get to see fun snippets of movies from Tarantino's version of sixties Hollywood.

Then there’s the fact that this is undoubtedly Tarantino's most intimate movie yet. There’s such a blazing passion behind this thing; a blissful feeling that washes over you in nearly every scene. It seems he’s having such fun with absolutely everything here, almost like a kid in a grand candy store. Yet, it’s tinted with bitterness. The whole thing is a sort of melancholic affair – of course, the eventual conclusion of the movie is one of positivity, but there’s a very sad undertone, as if the whole film is wishful thinking. It seems Tarantino's sadness towards Hollywood's gradual decline since its so-called “Golden Years” is also present, right alongside his sheer enthusiasm towards this time. It’s a very fitting movie, especially now with a fairly uncertain future for cinema.

It also works because Tarantino can indulge himself at will. Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood is a blatant hangout movie, with there being only the bare resemblance of a straightforward plot – mostly, it just tracks a few characters living their lives, simultaneously functioning as a tribute to the classic days of cinema. The overall setting and relaxed vibe completely permits for Tarantino's exploration of this classic landscape without it feeling as though the film is being derailed. Plus, consistently, even the more indulgent moments feel as though they relate to the “story” in at least some loose way.

And yes, I can see some calling the movie “pointless.” But to me that’s almost the whole point, if that makes any sense at all. Similarly to Linklaters incredible Dazed and Confused (1993) (although arguably that movie has more substantial messages) it’s a tribute to an era, and a means by which to revisit a time period long gone. Plus, each of the three main stories – Cliff Booths, Rick Daltons, and Sharon Tates – are each simply excellent and entertaining in extremely different ways. Daltons is perhaps my favorite, as the concept of “fading away” and no longer being the best at something is an idea very real and very easy to connect to. Dalton himself is almost a personification of the time period, representing a type of film that's beginning to no longer be wanted. DiCaprio absolutely nails this role, bringing a slight comedic edge to this character's story while simultaneously keeping it serious enough to make it real and relatable.

Meanwhile, Booth's arc is purely entertaining and suspenseful, with everything at Spahn Ranch being so wildly entertaining and fabulously directed. Pitt nails this role, exuding such a cool, slick charisma that it’s challenging to not like his character, even with his darker side (perhaps this is Tarantino commenting on movie stars in general). Tates arc, on the other hand, is one I found strangely fulfilling upon this viewing. Margot Robbie, similarly to Pitt, is just so damn likable and charming here. Certainly, the utterly phenomenal performances play a large part in driving the film and evoking at least some care towards the characters.

Once again, perhaps it’s unfair to give this movie five stars, especially considering how (if you truly disliked it) you could most likely dissect and tear it to shreds. Still, once again I must emphasize how euphoric and carefully, intricately constructed this chill movie is. To me, it’s one where the pros far outweigh the cons. I cannot wait to revisit this one again in the future, and it has quickly become one of my favorites from recent years.

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