Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie and a bunch of other Caucasians
Run time: 2 hours, 41 minutes (RIP Sally Menke)
Rating: Seriously? It is Tarantino, of corpse it is R
by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
“It’s official old buddy, I’m a has been.” - Rick Dalton
Hollywood has charmed the best of us. With its shiny bright lights, the glitz and glamour sometimes it is hard to look away.
It is no secret that I am a fan of the critically panned, The Great Gatsby (2013). What may come as a surprise though is that it isn’t because of Leo…it's the sequins. The costumes and all that razzle dazzle hypnotized me; I was blinded by the light. Unfortunately, the glitz on display in Once Upon a Time In … Hollywood, didn’t pull the wool over my eyes. Despite the amazing production design, noticeable costumes and catchy soundtrack, I did not fall under the spell of Quentin Tarantino’s (QT) latest escapade.
Set from February to August of 1969, part of what is often referred to as the last years of Hollywood’s golden age. The story centers around a washed up TV cowboy actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double/assistant/right hand pal, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Cliff is there for Rick around the clock to as he puts it, “to carry the load”. He drives Rick to the bar (surprise! Rick lost his license because of hooch), will jump a bridge in a moving car, provide a shoulder to cry on and even scale a roof in order to fix a broken TV antenna. Clint is more than just Rick’s double, he is his friend…his only friend.
After a successful career in television as a famed cowboy, Rick is on the downslope of his career and not adjusting very well. Often taking roles as heels and fighting back tears, Rick is experiencing the fate that awaits us all: old age. One can bide their time with face creams but the wrinkles will arrive regardless and the coffin will always be inevitable. Rick candidly frames our existence by stating “we become slightly more useless each day”. A theme that is reprised throughout the course of the film.
For close to three hours, through various disjointed vignettes Rick and Cliff are seen working on Hollywood sets, driving (I can’t express to you the amount of driving done in this movie and I ain’t talking Rockford type driving). Interspersed with commuting through Los Angeles, are a few other mismanaged stories. There is the tale of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the Manson family and the overall Hollywood lifestyle in 1969.
There were many moments while watching this film that I could not stop myself from thinking of how much work QT has done to get to this point in his career. To have the luxury to direct by pointing aimlessly, operating like a wild man. There’s no doubt that he would benefit from being tamed. As a Fox Mulder enthusiast (THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE) and conspiracy theorist, I seriously have to question the relationship and authority that the film editor had on this particular picture. Since the passing of his longtime editor and collaborator, Sally Menke (RIP), the films seem to get away from him. This was seen in not only The Hateful Eight, but also in Django Unchained.
In taking a look at Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood’s editor, Fred Raskin’s credits, I was surprised/proud to see he hails from Philadelphia, PA and to learn of his notable filmography. This guy seems to know how to snip. So I am not sure what happened. The only thing I could come up with is that the script was a mess. Or, maybe, QT snuck in some extra footage under his shirt. Footage that should have ended up on the cutting floor.
All kidding aside, it was extremely frustrating to find Margot underutilized. The few scenes and the minimal dialogue she had were noteworthy, but also completely pointless. The story of Sharon Tate plays out as a mere afterthought and adds nothing to the plot. I am confused why QT felt it necessary to insert the infamous Manson mayhem into the story, only to completely glaze over it…that is until the ending. I won’t spoil it here, but let’s just say…I am not a fan. To be clear, I didn’t want to see the actual events of Cielo Drive. I’ve read about it and heard about it, frankly that’s enough. I just feel QT didn’t need to tell this story at all. He should have just stayed away from it. The only answer I could come up with for the reason he felt the responsibility to include it was that it is an event that occurred in 1969, making it a story of convenience for his script. Plus, Sharon has a mystique to her and we are in America…it sells.
I don’t feel that QT was insensitive to Sharon’s story, I think it was just not fully executed. He may have been trying to make a comment on her career being cut short. Or maybe not? In the film, we witness a Sharon with stars in her eyes for the future. Hoping to make her mark in la la land and later be known for her acting career. She is unaware that her life will be tragically cut short and instead of being known for her films, her life would be associated with a bunch of brainwashed hippies.
QT seems to be attempting to portray a “what if” situation, playing into the notion that the movie’s title alludes to…this is all just a fairy tale. There is even inconsistent “story time” style narration to go along with this motif. What if, Sharon lived and was able to succeed in her career as an actress? There would have needed to be additional context in order for this to truly be realized. There is a scene in which Sharon Tate went to an LA movie theater as a patron to watch the action comedy film she was co-starring in, The Wrecking Crew. She plays the klutz. During her cinematic adventure, she removes her shoes in the cinema, placing them atop of the seat (This. NO.). This was something I never knew about Sharon. As much as I enjoyed the thought of her being enamored with her hearing the audience’s reaction to seeing her on screen and sporting a pair of the largest nerdiest glasses, I have ever seen. It is her exposed dirty feet in a movie palace (a sanctuary) that will stick with me. Out of all the things QT could have shared with me, I wish this wasn’t it.
It wasn’t all bad though. It is hard to not enjoy the chemistry between Brad and Leo. This probably will come as no surprise, as they typically bring their A-game to any flick and provide an enjoyable time at the movies. There was also Julia Butters. She shared one of the more memorable and touching scenes with Rick Dalton and is definitely someone to watch out for. I also feel she may have been the only woman in the film that I cared about. Women don’t really get much to do here. The moments the women do have on screen are ones I would rather not think about.
However, there was truly not a more perfect onscreen relationship than witnessing the scenes with Cliff and his pet dog. It will be quite some time until I get the image of Cliff preparing his pup’s meals, which consisted of canned Wolf Tooth out of my head. Once you see it, it is not just the showy label that will be recalled. The sequences left me pining for more. I’d watch that TV show.
I feel QT has worked his ass off to get to this point in his career. He has reached the point that he is able to do whatever the hell he feels like. This could consist of showing clips of neon signs simply turning on and buzzing. Or having Leo dance on a retro inspired set looking all dapper. It also means that if he wants to make a close to three hour film with a meandering plot, nobody is gonna stop him.