Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood [review]

Ok so so that new Quentin Tarantino movie (his 9th out of 10) Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood came out this past Thursday. First things first–what’s with the ellipses in the title? Kind of seems unnecessary. What does it add? You don’t add extra space to your speech when you’re saying it. I don’t really understand that. Do you think Tarantino has a lucrative endorsement agreement with the big ellipses companies? Someone should investigate.

For the most part, Tarantino’s movies all sort of revolve around how much he loves movies and Hollywood, and many of his films are driven by nostalgia (reflected in the fact that he’s now made 3 straight movies that revolve around the Western style), but this film takes it one step further: It is the literal embodiment of loving Hollywood and nostalgia. For better or for worse. Let’s start with the better, though. Oh, also, there will be some light spoilers. I say ‘light spoilers’ not because I’m holding anything back, but because this isn’t the type of movie that has a ton of huge plot points to give away. There’s some stuff in the 3rd act you don’t expect, particularly if you know the real history, but it doesn’t affect the overall film much. Spoiler alert nonetheless.

The first thing you notice about this movie is how well-acted it is, and that’s an especially interesting aspect of the movie because one of the 3 main characters (leonardo dicaprio) plays an actor in the movie, so try to not get confused. Anyways, Leo’s acting in this film was really spectacular–It looked like the type of role that would have been super fun to do. Brad Pitt was also good as Leo’s stunt double, but 99% of the acting Pitt does in the movie has nothing to do with Leo’s character. This movie is vintage Leo and Pitt, and there’s a large portion of the 2nd act that is just physically watching Leo act. While this was really long (see one of my criticisms below), it was fascinating at the same time.

Another thing I really liked is something you often take for granted in Tarantino movies so I wanted to make a point of mentioning it: The cinematography here was a ton of work and it ended up looking spectacular. You can tell Tarantino was having a ton of fun recreating sets from the 60s and transforming LA in general into this golden age vision he has. I have some big broad-sweeping issues with Tarantino having full control over his movies now (limited to no studio involvement) (see my criticisms below), but his cinematography is one thing that really benefits from his pure direction.

The last positive point I’ll make here is that it was a pretty entertaining movie–You do definitely start to feel the run time in the 2nd act, but in general with the great acting and the beautiful cinematography, you don’t actually get ‘bored,’ you just wonder what the purpose of a particular scene is, or why Tarantino chose to make it 15 minutes and not something more reasonable like 5 or 6. Let’s shift gears here though and look at some negatives. I have a lot of them.

2 hours and 40 minutes is REALLY long. The 2nd act in particular feels like it’s own separate movie. Leo spends the whole day acting, and it feels like you’re watching him for a whole day. He goes to makeup. He has a terribly long conversation with one of the other actors. He acts. He throws a fit in his trailer. He has another conversation with one of the other actors. He goes back and acts again. It was neat that they did a lot of single take type scenes, but man, it really starts to drag. This is where I got confused by the movie–I was about 90 minutes in and I had no idea what the plot or purpose of the movie was. If you say the plot of the movie surrounds the Manson murders (which is how the film was advertised), then you better be prepared to wait out the first 2 hours of the movie. It’s not that the first two acts aren’t entertaining, it’s just that they feel almost completely disconnected to the 3rd act in which ‘everything’ happens.

Frankly, when I see a Tarantino movie, I’m expecting a decent amount of humor, even if it’s really dark humor. There were a few occasions throughout the film where I let out an audible chuckle, but the ratio of runtime to audible chuckles wasn’t great. In that same vein, and related to the first negative point, the overall pacing, while not awful, was confusing at times. The 2nd act just feels like Tarantino playing with himself and seeing how much of a tribute to the golden age of cinema he can make while the 3rd act felt like an entire comedy-horror movie packed into 40 minutes.

What’s with the toes in this movie? There are two distinct scenes here where the toes are out in full display–Once when the brunette Manson girl is in Pitt’s car, and once when Margot Robbie is watching herself at the theater. I didn’t know Tarantino had a foot fetish before this, but after watching this and doing some other research on Uma Thurman, it’s all coming together. It was distracting. It didn’t add anything to the movie. It wasn’t interesting. I felt like I was watching Rex Ryan make a movie. I’m not even one of those people who’re grossed out by toes. I just didn’t get it. Shrug.

Ok, by far my biggest criticism and the one that really bugs me: Tarantino treats his female characters like s**t in this movie, and he doesn’t really seem to care. Let’s start with Margot Robbie. She’s advertised as one of the 3 main characters. She portrays Sharon Tate, a real life figure with a fascinating story. So what does Sharon Tate do in this movie? Nothing. Literally nothing. She goes to a party. She dances a bit. She goes to the movies. She has about 7 seconds of dialogue. Tarantino makes this really intriguing historical popular figure into a barbie doll. An object. Not a sexual object thankfully, but just an object. My dog could’ve played that part just as well, because Margot Robbie was given absolutely nothing to do. I spent just about the entire runtime waiting for her to either do something interesting or link up with some of the characters we actually care about. Nahhhh, not gonna do any of that. Thanks!

Margot Robbie’s not the only female who gets shafted big time in this movie though. Kurt Russell’s character’s wife is in the movie for about 20 seconds. She’s the only prominent female on a set. She’s portrayed as super cranky and bossy. Great! Oh, and lest we not forget about Brad Pitt’s character’s wife either! Also annoying and irritating. BIG SPOILER ALERT AHEAD. Oh, and the fact that Brad Pitt killed her and got away with it? Tarantino wants us to view that as the joke. That’s the joke. I feel like I missed something. Then you have Dakota Fanning as Squeaky Fromme. Super creepy and wildly intriguing female character. Meh, let’s get her in there for 30 seconds. And finally, and a lot of people have been forgetting this, but Leo gets married between the 2nd and 3rd acts. His new wife? Some Italian floozy who’s given no character and is just a parody. Great. I don’t think movies have to follow Title IX regulations. Not every movie has to be about women as much as it is about men. But this movie makes its women look awful, and it’s extremely intentional about it. This was a huge turn off.

Overall, while the movie looks good and the acting performances from Leo and Pitt are great, the whole thing just feels super drowsy. I can’t imagine watching this at home on my couch–I’d be asleep 45 minutes in. SO DRAWN OUT. Not a ton of momentum, and we’re not really sure if we should be rooting for the main characters or not as one is a crying alcoholic manchild (Leo–it’s funny but doesn’t necessarily make you want to get behind him), a murderer (Pitt, who I go back and forth on regarding his hero or anti-hero status), and Margot Robbie, who again, gets absolutely nothing to do. Overall, this was basically a movie about how great it was to be a white man in the 60s. Everyone else (even Bruce Lee!) is treated like dog crap in this film. It’s clear Tarantino is crazy-nostalgic for the past, but if it’s the past he’s envisioning in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, eh, I’m good.

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