A lot of you will probably assume I’m joking calling this critically acclaimed movie painful. So let me add a little more flavour to help you understand a few things about me; the only other Quentin Tarantino film I’ve seen is Inglourious Basterds, a movie I did enjoy, to put it out there. But also, and this is the more important part, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood reminisces about 60’s Hollywood like a time capsule documentary, so it will be full of delicious references and familiar poster artwork for those nostalgic of the times. I’m not one of those people at all. Still, despite my limited knowledge of QT and half-century-old-cinema, I had good expectations. So how did they sink?
First, a synopsis, how bout it? Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is enough of a Hollywood celebrity to be given consistent acting offers, driven famous for hillbilly bang-bang Westerners ready to crack some skull. Though lately his popularity has been declining, now playing guest-appearances as villains and unsure if he’s still got whatever charm earned him his household bookings. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is Dalton’s long-time friend and stunt double, whose smile and wink can charm any and all women as he drives his friend to the sets, and whose biceps could cause a falling safe to bend like rubber. Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate, a real-life actress who has history I didn’t know about prior to seeing this film. Taking place in the late 60’s, and supposedly about one of the biggest real-life murders in Hollywood history, we catch wind of a tribe called the Manson family, and their unconventional lifestyle and what they are really led to believe about the judicial system of vigilantism.
A lot of people found this movie to be a gift for veteran filmgoers. A lot of veteran movie critics will have reviews up discussing all the Easter Eggs made specifically for them instead of younger generations – Easter Eggs you may or may not have knowledge of too. And the delightful, honoring and delicious Easter Eggs from Pokemon: Detective Pikachu were one of the main reasons I gave that movie an A+. For me this 60’s blowback movie was more like an aimless waste of a real-life tragedy depiction with no character or plot direction. In my earlier synopsis, I talked about the Manson family a little, but in all honesty, about 60% of the movie is over before we really get to them, instead blossoming us with scenes and talking points without future importance – and I got the early and correct impression they wouldn’t be important anyway.
DiCaprio, Pitt and Robbie are all good in their roles, and each of them begin in their own fascinating storylines. DiCaprio’s character’s struggles on the big screen are at first fascinating and harrowing, especially his talks and scenes, behind a camera or behind our camera, with a serious eight-year-old actress, played by Julia Butters, who has a future ahead of her in modern-day Hollywood. Robbie has always been a terrific actress and she’s able to depict a provoking performance as the real-life Sharon Tate, searching the city for what will bring her happiness, whether it be her acting or the people around her. One of my favourite scenes was her in a theatre watching herself on the screen (or the real Tate, anyway) and doing her best to enjoy herself and clearly hope everyone else in the theatre likes her movie too.
Everyone seems to be having fun being in this film but, except for Robbie who really does not have enough screen time, we don’t give two rotten applesauce packets about any of these people. We would for DiCaprio and Pitt if they showed any sign of desiring to not just make it better but become better. I know this was a time period where cigarettes weren’t known to be carcinogenic, but these people surely must know something is really wrong with them. Nothing’s necessarily wrong with Robbie’s character, but apart from how beautiful she is, there’s nothing she’s given in this movie to let her stand out. She’s clearly a good person, but she never seems to be in turmoil about money or danger or sadness. And we’re with these guys for, well, as long as an average QT movie is. Now forgive me. Looking at what I know of Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, Tarantino movies I’ve heard of but obviously haven’t seen, it seems unlikable characters are his specialty. I hope for his sake in case I ever decide to see them that they’re not as single-note as the ones here, however.
As the film was going on, I was deciding the movie seemed fine enough but just not enough to recommend with open arms. So I was considering a C but the last 40 minutes brought my grade down to a D. DiCaprio’s character ends up doing something off-camera, supposedly in the quest for happiness, but we have no idea how it happened, and because Rick Dalton’s a fictional character, it wasn’t like Tarantino had to worry about pissing off fans of the person by stretching the truth about his timeline. He could’ve made up a reason to have more development happen. Pitt’s character also ends up going from admirable to completely ridiculous, not afraid in the slightest of danger or aggression, despite the fact he’s buff but not the most buff on the block. Some people have characterized him as the most Tarantino-esque of the bunch, like the guy he depicted in Inglourious Basterds. Except this time it’s a lot harder to convince me he’s out there for the greater good.
The end has a twist, and honestly, I could’ve really done without it. Sometimes a little conventionality doesn’t hurt a film, especially if, for me, it’s on the verge of collapse like this one ended up being. It was like Tarantino was hoping to surprise us in a real-life event depiction without bothering us too much about some inaccuracies. That’s hard to do, and some would say even harder for a Hollywood studio to green-light. Well, back in 2016, a similarly-themed film called Hail, Caesar! opened to the public, in that it took place on an old-fashioned Hollywood set, and I found that movie even worse than this one. I guess me and the screenwriters of Hollywood biographies don’t see eye to eye.
Good luck getting me excited when Tarantino announces the release date of his next film.