I've Been A Film Enthusiast as Long as I can remember. I Suffer from the Same Disease Leonard did in Memento.
Because writer/director Quentin Tarantino thinks you care about how many films he’s made in the past 27 years, all the promos for Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood bludgeon you with the fact that this is his 9th movie. Not sure if it’s some kind of warning that the quality of his films will decline as he gets older a la Hitchcock, but if Tarantino retires after 10 movies as he’s previously stated, then that final 10th film will have a lot to live up to.
Because Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood (now to be referred to as Once Upon, because it’s a long-ass title) is…wow. And that’s only after a first viewing.
Full disclosure: Pulp Fiction is my favorite film of all time, and none of Tarantino’s subsequent movies ventured near that pinnacle, but Once Upon comes pretty close.
Having written that, the less you know about Once Upon going in, the better viewing experience you’ll have. You might have heard the rumors about Once Upon’s very secretive production: The Manson Murders being a key plot point, Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio getting tattoos of each other on the small of their backs (or depending on the gossip site you visit, giving each other said tattoos), Margot Robbie finally revealing what the ‘T’ in Margot stands for). Read some other review for spoilers. Because you won’t find them here.
I won’t reveal Margot Robbie’s head in a box.
I won’t reveal Leo DiCaprio getting violated by 4 bears this time.
I won’t reveal Quentin Tarantino using 3 of Brad Pitt’s adopted kids standing on top of each other wearing the Gimp outfit in a very key scene.
You’re just going to have to watch the movie.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep this synopsis relatively spoiler-free, except for the parts where I totally spoil everything.
It’s early 1969 and actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) has had a pretty bad couple of years, career-wise. He was once part of a successful TV western but it got canceled because he tried to carve out a film career as well. Now he’s forced to take bit parts as bad guys on other TV shows just to prove to Hollywood he still exists. He also played Luke the runaway in the final season of Growing Pains.
Rick still has a nice house in Hollywood, and powerful agent Marvin Shwarzs (Al Pacino) is looking to put him in films, provided he’s willing to move to Italy.
The only person who still believes in Rick is his ever-faithful stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Cliff is more like a gofer more than an actual stuntman. He’s got a checkered past and seems more than content to live on the fringes of Hollywood in a trailer with his loyal dog Brandy (Kevin Bacon).
Once Upon covers the next 48 hours and 6 months of Rick and Cliff’s lives. Needless to say, they will be pretty eventful.
Rick will try to find meaningful work while trying to accept that his time in Hollywood may be drawing to a close. It doesn’t help that the hottest director in Hollywood Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his wife Sharon Tate (DiCaprio’s Wolf of Wall Street costar Margot Robbie) are his neighbors. What luck, to be living next to a director who could take his career to the next level.
Cliff will do odd jobs for Rick and try not to pay too much attention to the hippie girl (Margaret Qualley) he sees around town. She seems to be flirting with him. No matter that he might be too old her. She’s a little off, but she has so many sights to show him.
All throughout the narrative, Sharon Tate weaves in and out. We get closer to August 9th, 1969 as she gets closer to giving birth.
Will all these characters and destinies collide? Probably, but since it’s Tarantino it won’t be in any way you expect.
What Works With Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
- In a Tarantino movie, you’ve come to expect certain scenes of dialogue standing out. Once Upon is certainly no exception. The best acted scene comes courtesy of a pint-sized actress (Julia Butters) playing a pint-sized actress and teaching Rick Dalton the ins and outs of acting. Her self-seriousness is one of the funniest things in a movie surrounded by melancholy with tragedy on the outskirts.
- A scene-stealing Mike Moh shines as a very arrogant Bruce Lee. You get the feeling Tarantino cut a lot of his scenes just to shorten the running time. You hope to eventually see them on a Special Edition Blu-Ray.
- Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio- They spend as much of the movie apart as they are onscreen together. They’re both excellent in their individual roles, but when they’re onscreen together is when Once Upon clicks on all cylinders. You may question whether it’s because Tarantino has written the characters so well or if it’s just pure movie star wattage. It’s not long before you realize it’s both at the same time. You may argue that there really isn’t much of a female presence in the movie, and you’re probably right. But once you accept that the movie is about these two men and everything else is just periphery, then you’ll enjoy the ride a lot more.
- A climax that’s as violent as it is funny. I heard as many laughs as I did groans of disgust from the audience during my screening.
What Doesn't Work With Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
- At 2 hours and 40 minutes, Once Upon does meander at times. Scenes may take a bit too long to develop, sequences sometimes feel repetitious. It probably takes more than one viewing to get into the rhythm of the movie. 2015’s The Hateful Eight has, um, 8 minutes more running time, but feels so much longer by comparison.
In a season overrun with lackluster sequels and superhero franchises, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is a shot of adrenaline in an otherwise dreary summer at the movies. It’s Tarantino’s best film in a decade and a more than sound excuse to spend 2 and a half hours in an air conditioned auditorium. This is one the best movies of the year and probably more fun than being buggered by a bear.
Buy Once Upon A Time in Hollywood now!
© 2019 Noel Penaflor
Michael115 on July 29, 2019:
I understand what the movie was trying to go for with her character, but they could have made her scenes more interesting at least. Whenever it cut back to her character watching a movie it felt like padding. I feel like if she had more dialogue with Rick and Cliff then the movie would not feel like a chore to watch during certain scenes. Just my take on the film.
Logan Daniel Williamson on July 29, 2019:
Sharon Tate has a significant role in the movie, even if she has only a few lines. Remove her, and the entire film falls apart. Her character served as a time stamp but also an access point for Tarantino to rewrite history.
Michael115 on July 27, 2019:
Interesting. The advertising made her seem like she had a bigger role in the movie. Oh well. Maybe QT will put her in a bigger role next time around.
Noel Penaflor (author) from California on July 27, 2019:
(according to QT). Sharon Tate in the movie was meant to be symbolic. Her place in the film was a living ghost. Cliff and Rick were the main characters while Tate served as a placeholder for the time.
Michael115 on July 26, 2019:
Good review! I had a fun time watching the movie but it did feel slow at times. Margot Robbie was wasted in the film since most of her screen time is of her dancing.