Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is not quite the Tarantino movie I was expecting, possibly because I didn’t know what to expect. I will start by saying that I was relieved to see L posted his review because, frankly, I wasn’t quite sure where to start with this one. It’s not that the movie doesn’t give you a lot to think about, it does, it’s just that there are so many things going on and so many things that don’t quite fit together that I found it difficult to conceptualize a coherent review. In that spirit, I will just add some additional thoughts to what L has put out there already.
First off, I liked the movie a lot more than he did, though I admit that I shared his doubts that there was an end it sight. There are indeed a lot of close ups of people’s legs as they walk from here to there (and from there back to here again). I really liked the portrayal of late-60s Hollywood and the surrounding environs, and am somewhat surprised that L wasn’t more sympathetic to just taking it all in. Maybe because we didn’t get out of the theater until almost 2 a.m.?
Second, I think the main theme of the movie is the impending irrelevancy of even the greatest among us. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a self-described has been, and the increasingly beautiful Brad Pitt plays his never was stunt man / driver (whose claim to fame is getting away with murder), and if these two potentially hit the skids in Hollywood, what could possibly be in store for us mere mortals? Certainly Steve McQueen, Connie Stevens, Bruce Lee, Hugh Hefner, and all the various bunnies and starlets featured in the movie have each taken their places in posterity (or, more likely, obscurity), most with reputations well below the peak of their popularity. I am guessing 25 years on from Pulp Fiction, Tarantino is coming to terms with his own late middle age and taking it in for what it is, which is not always entirely clear. I am not a Hollywood junkie, so I don’t have any insider scoop or thoughts on his “10 and out” proclamation, but if that’s the case, perhaps this movie is simply a meditation on how it all ends. Unlike the “real” meaning of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” the road not taken here really does make all the difference. In terms of the plot, the movie contemplates an alternate trajectory for Manson and his ilk. In terms of Tarantino himself, will he be a Kubrickesque “10 and out” with a very well defined body of work, or a Woody Allen cranking out a film year after year of highly variable quality until he’s dead?
There are definitely some highlights here (see also L’s review). I did like the Bruce Lee scene (though I didn’t understand why Tarantino tossed him into the bus) and the scuba diving bit was really funny and surprisingly restrained. We laughed quite a bit. I thought DiCaprio was brilliant and it’s hard to watch this and not think of what a life a super-duper star must actually lead. And Brad Pitt must have a clause in his contract that he’s not allowed to lose a fight, or if he does that he wins by losing, a la Fight Club. (Maybe that was the point of the whole Al Pacino storyline. Who knows?). One of the big mysteries to me as the movie inched along was whether the real-life egos of these two would allow them to end up on taking one for Team Tarantino. I will let you find out how that works out. We also are treated to star power out the yin-yang, with Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino, Lena Dunham, and Luke Perry (!) all making appearances. I heard Burt Reynolds was supposed to be in it, too, but he died, perhaps setting the tone for the narrative.
I would also point out, if it’s not obvious enough, that Tarantino writes and directs for the male psyche. The female characters in the movie are ultimately limited and disappointing. And there were few if any females in the audience. There were, however, a lot of guys there by themselves — L&D were in our usual primo seats, of course, and we were each flanked by a singular young man attending the film alone. In fact, the disturbed young man next to me was laughing so hard at not quite appropriate times that I briefly considered getting up and moving. There were also plenty of old men in the crowd and everywhere in between. Probably 25 people and either zero or one of those was female.
And, finally, unlike L, I plan to go see this one again in the theater, though I might go to the 9 a.m. showing so I don’t nod off as we turn the corner into the third hour. Or perhaps I will set an alarm so I’m sure to be awake for the part I slept through the first time around? If you have a few hours to burn, you could do worse. Hit me up if you are game.