Writing about Quentin Tarantino’s ninth movie (He has vowed to make only ten before retiring) seems kind of pointless. There has been so much advertising and so many reviews, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is definitely going to be seen. However, I am here to address the doubters…
Tarantino movies have gotten progressively worse.
If you feel this way, this movie does for Tarantino what he did for John Travolta and David Carradine. To speak in the lingo of the movie, He’s back, baby! This may be the best Tarantino movie yet. At the very least it is the best ending of a Tarantino film, or maybe any movie ever.
I have heard there is a movie within a movie and I hate movies within movies.
There is more than one movie within a movie. There are a lot of movies, and television shows, and even commercials. There is one very long part about the making of a Western in which the main character, fading star Rick Dalton, plays a villain. But this movie is a comedy, and the scenes are used to poke fun at the vanity, bravado, and well-worn tropes of the whole process. It also gives Leonardo DeCaprio a chance to explore the difference between bad acting and skillful acting, and introduces us to the funny and delightful Julia Butters as a precocious eight year-old method actress.
I don’t like movies that glorify the Manson Family.
Again, this is a comedy, and rather than focusing on the weird mystique of the group, the movie deflates the myths and exposes them as a ragamuffin band of crazy hippies. We see them though the eyes of Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff Booth, who is tougher, cooler, and more badass than anyone he encounters–and he knows it.
No one can play Sharon Tate. She was a one-of-a-kind.
I, too, had my doubts about Margot Robbie, although she was stellar as Tonya Harding, how could she capture the allure of Sharon Tate? Robbie does a remarkable job, showing Tate as a charming, guileless beauty, still giddy at the idea that she is actually in the movies. It was a questionable decision for Tarantino to show Robbie as Tate, watching real Sharon Tate film clips, as though she were seeing herself. I have a feeling there is something more complicated to that than I understand.
Tarantino Movies are insufferably long.
The Western movie set scenes are definitely too long and need to be edited. Perhaps the Spahn Ranch scene could be edited down a bit, especially George Spahn, who seems to be there to give Cliff Booth a reason to stay longer and to piss off The Family, but it is dragged out to let Bruce Dern have some fun as a crotchety old man. I might cut down the 2 hour and 40 minute running time to at most an hour and a half.
Tarantino movies are violent and misogynistic.
Yes, this movie is violent. But it’s a satisfying kind of violence where the person pretty much deserved it. And it’s so over the top sometimes it’s almost cartoonish. The only upsetting visual for me in the movie was a squealing rat stuck in a glue trap. And it’s not the kind of misogynistic violence where a male serial killer slashes women victims, or keeps them in a cage in his fucking basement.
As for the treatment of women in the film, there are a lot of women cast, but mostly in small parts. The heroes are Brad Pitt and Leonardo DeCaprio, so they get most of the screen time. Sharon Tate might be oversimplified as a sweet, innocent girl. But a lot of people who knew her described her that way. The Italian movie actress is strong and intense, but she is not shrewish. In one scene a hitch-hiker offers to blow Cliff Booth. He turns her down on the assumption that she is underage. He insists that he doesn’t want to go to jail, but considering Tarantino’s support of the #metoo movement, maybe it’s a statement, as well as a way to show that Cliff Booth is a good guy. As for Tarantino’s fetishes, there are a lot of filthy bare feet in this movie.
Tarantino films are racist
This movie is a long way from “Pulp Fiction.” That said, there are almost no people of color in the entire movie. Manson was absolutely a racist, and I guess the “beautiful people” of that era lived in an insulated bubble. The only people of color I noticed were Mexican extras in the saloon scenes. Cliff did advise a weepy Rick Dalton, “Never cry in front of a Mexican.” Maybe it was in reference to their storied machismo, or maybe it’s totally racist. As an outsider, I have a hard time breaking it down.
If I have not yet convinced you to see this film, it is a portrayal of a bygone era, drinks at Musso & Frank’s, KHJ on the radio and even a television appearance by my childhood hero, Sinister Seymour, the horror movie host. Tarantino went to an incredible amount of trouble re-building old Hollywood, recreating places like the Pussycat Theater, Supply Sergeant, and The Music Box. At times it was kind of distracting, as I mentally pointed out, “There’s the Frolic Room! There’s Chili John’s!” For pure nostalgia, this film is a must-see. I’ll say this, it has been a long time since I have seen an audience applaud at the end of a movie.