Movie Review: Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood
Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, there lived a very, very good doggo. It lived happily ever after. Everybody else? Who cares?
Well, Quentin Tarantino gonna Quentin Tarantino. It gets a little hard to write about a director that has a style that never really changes. You either like his schtick, hate it, or in my case, dust off a case of “Meh” whenever he decides to put out a new film rather than retire. Which brings us to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. The film isn’t bad. It also isn’t good. It’s just more of Tarantino getting some very talented actors to make his fascination with Pop-Culture/Movies, Witty Banter, Casual Racism/Misogyny, and Farcical Violence palatable. Which everyone pretty much does in this film. It’s everything you like about Tarantino with an equal measure of everything that pisses you off about him.
At least this film should win the Oscar’s newest category: Best Man’s Best Friend.
Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (2019)
Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his best friend/stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) are navigating the twilight of their careers in 1969 Hollywood. Rick, a has-been leading man in 1950’s westerns is circling the drain as a “villain of the week” for newer stars while Cliff is effectively black-balled from the industry for the shady death of his wife. While these two men deal with their mid-life crises, the summer of love threatens to end in a bloody fashion as followers of Charles Manson stalk Rick’s next-door neighbor Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).
Look But Don’t Touch
Quentin Tarantino was Seth MacFarlane before Seth MacFarlane was Seth MacFarlane. Tarantino loves pop-culture, and throws in more Easter Eggs, references, and cameos than a film should be allowed to contain. Which is to say, sometimes his films are way too stuffed with “hey remember…?” stuff. Once Upon a Time… is one of these films. Bruce Lee, Telly Savalas, and a million TV show references (both real and imagined) grace this falling-from-grace film. Some of it blends seamlessly, others stick out like sore thumbs.
Tarantino reminds me of the kid on your block who always gets the latest, coolest toys. He invites you over to marvel at them, but won’t let you play with them. Instead of having fun with the new toys, you instead get to hear Richie Rich drone on about what makes Toy X so cool. A Tarantino movie is him spending hours showing you everything he thinks is “fucking sweet” without really any regard for whether you’re impressed or not.
For the record, I was not. I stopped hanging out with that kind of kid when I was 10.
If you like Quentin Tarantino movies, a major part of that might be the slicker than goose-shit dialogue. Quick, incisive, and witty, Tarantino generally gets some Grade A actors to have some Grade A+ palavers. That, thankfully, has not dulled. DiCaprio and Pitt are a fantastic duo, and their time spent solo is usually just as engaging. One’s a narcissist and the other is a shady adrenaline junky, but both the writing and acting make them feel as real as they are bombastic.
Unfortunately, Margot Robbie does not get the same treatment. She has maybe 10 lines in the whole movie, despite appearing in just under half of it. Wherever she goes, the camera ogles her. It’s sexist as well as a damn shame. One of the highlights of the film is watching Robbie’s expressions as she plays Tate sneaking into one of her own films to see how the audience reacts to her acting. She’s wasted in this film.
Riding into Town, a Whippin’ and a Whompin’?
The film has definite bloat to it, but it doesn’t drag as much as it’s 2 hour 40 minute runtime could. The charismatic leads help make meandering parts of the movie bearable. Unlike most other Tarantino films, however, the meandering isn’t just to get from one scene of Ultra-Violence to the next. There’s literally only one example of Tarantino Violence™, and it comes at the tale end of the film. It was fast, furious, and morbidly funny. Pretty par for the course.
Speaking of Tail Ends
Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood is a fairly by the numbers Tarantino film. If you like his camera work, dialogue, and flashback laden story style, you’re going to get a heapin’ helpin’ of his hospitality. If you wanted Kill Bill levels of violence, this one is going to bore you. But no matter what kind of Tarantino aficionado you are, everyone will agree: Brandy the Pit Bull is a very good dog. The dog is in two major scenes, and steals both of them. After watching this film, I felt neither disappointed nor elated. I did, however, feel the need to go home and pet the high holy hell out of my dog.