Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood is director Quentin Tarantino's love letter to cinema. If you know anything about the ‘60s or Old Hollywood, I urge you to go see this movie. It's everything you want in a Tarantino movie and more.
Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood is a throwback to Old Hollywood and it’s also Quentin Tarantino’s (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill: Volume 1 & 2, and Inglorious Bastards) love letter to cinema. An intoxicating fable of a struggling actor in a changing city with a spin on the Manson cult. Funny and violent – with a dash of Westerns sprinkled in the film. Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie are perfection. Once Upon A Time... is one of the best films of the year and it showcases Tarantino’s more provocative impulses. His 9th feature film receives a five-star review from me. For this last month, I've been going back over this movie and I just can't get past the amount of detail Tarantino poured into making this film come alive. Vivid and full of intimacy, Once Upon A Time… lets you live and breathe 1969 Los Angeles. Our story follows a faded 1950s television actor, Rick Dalton (a knockout DiCaprio), and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (a scene-stealing Brad Pitt), strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood's Golden Age.
With the occasional flashback, Tarantino focuses on three important dates in 1969: February 8, February 9, and August 8. Yes, the Westerns are fading in LA and moving in are a new age of filmmakers (Roman Polanski and others) and lots of hippies. Once upon a time, there were safe TV Western’s like Bonanza and Gunsmoke, now that’s all changed and in the past. Actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is running out of time as an important figure for television. His beloved ‘50s Western known as Bounty Law was canceled like dust in the wind. Now, Dalton is a high-functioning alcoholic, who spends most of his days drinking away at old memories and loathing the idea of having to star in Spaghetti Western films. Cliff (Pitt) is Dalton’s right-hand man and even drives Dalton around because he’s had one too many DUI’s. Along Cliff’s side is his faithful dog named Brandy. You’ll find out why Brandy makes a name for herself and earns the title as “Man’s Best Friend”. Within the storylines, Tarantino takes his time shaping and forming Once Upon A Time… – through DiCaprio and Pitt’s conversations, to the most precise detail of the changing culture in dusty LA. Once Upon A Time… lives in our veins.
There’s a ton of ‘50s and ‘60s TV/film references Tarantino sprinkled in throughout. To me, it was like we were going down memory lane of Grand Ole Hollywood. I am glad Tarantino assumed it’s the audience’s job to know the Golden Age history before entering. So, for film geeks, this movie is a blast of nostalgic cotton candy. Also, Tarantino's attention to detail for LA in 1969 was gorgeous and slapped a smile on my face from start to finish. In the rear-view mirror, of this film, we get two additional storylines – actress Sharron Tate (played by a never-better Margot Robbie) and the murderous Mason Family. Mrs. Tate and her husband Roman Polanski are Dalton's next door neighbors. This is an important detail that will come around later within the film. I could feel Robbie bring Sharron Tate's character to life just through her mannerisms and emotion. She did this so seamlessly. There’s a scene in particular, which I loved and even got a little teary-eyed.
Sharron Tate is going around the town on a normal day and she sees a movie playing at the Bruin Theatre – featuring herself in a supporting role. The movie is a Dean Martin action comedy named The Wrecking Crew (1968). Tate decides to go watch the movie and enjoy seeing herself on the big screen. Here, we see Robbie sitting in the theater with her bare feet up on the seat in front of her, observing herself with lots of giggles. But, instead of dubbing footage of Robbie in The Wrecking Crew, Tarantino used the real-archived footage of Sharron Tate. It’s an amazing moment watching Robbie watch the real Tate on the big screen. There’s a sense of happiness in the air and then, you’re overrun with bittersweet emotions. You’ll fall in love with Sharon Tate all over again and you’ll get the sense that she did love acting and that she had real potential. Gone too soon. Robbie was bubbly throughout the picture – giving us one of the best nonverbal parts in recent memory. Her physicality was pure gold.
Yes, there has been controversy surrounding the Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) fight scene. Many have pointed fingers at Tarantino for stereotyping Lee’s character and making him super arrogant. I agree that the arrogant characteristic might be frustrating for Lee fans; however, I believe Tarantino’s version of Lee was, well, more human. He strips away the superhero layer and makes him more vulnerable. During The Green Hornet fight scene between Lee and Cliff – actor Moh nails Lee’s voice and mannerisms to a T. Yet, when Lee began to fight Cliff some of the older audience members in my theater began to laugh at Lee’s noises. This made me incredibly frustrated with those who were laughing at him. In return, I believe Tarantino unconsciously brought out some people’s ignorance towards the Chinese culture. Thus, demonstrating the continual divide between the East and the West.
I have talked with a friend of mine about this particular scene and found out that he had a different experience. He explained that no one in his theater laughed at Lee, but the demographic was much younger. That’s something interesting to think about. I believe the younger generation is more accepting and understanding of one's cultural background. So, I will ask this question to those who have seen the movie: Why Are You Laughing at Bruce Lee? Moving on, Leo and Pitt's chemistry was on point throughout the entire film. I still don't know who acted better, they both stole the show in every single scene. Possible Oscar noms? We will see. Without spoiling it, the film ends on a bittersweet note. It was wild, funny, and it got my adrenaline rushing. Yes, this was a very Tarantino ending, to say the least. After it was all said and done, I was a little heartbroken because I remembered the reality of it. After you see, you’ll know exactly what I'm talking about. In the end, Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood is a phenomenal movie and is probably Tarantino's most mature film to date. This will be a film that we’ll be talking about years down the road. So, it's time to sit back and enjoy the ride. Let the Western sway songs begin. Note: fairy tales are not overrated.
Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood is rated R (Restricted). For language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references.
The 9th Film from Quentin Tarantino.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Mike Moh, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, and Al Pacino.
For Your Consideration:
In Their Own League
Mashley at the Movies
Mike, Mike, and Oscar
Next Best Picture
The Movie Oracle
Untitled Cinema Gals Project