ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD totally rules
Updated: Aug 6, 2019
I started to write a whole damn dissertation on ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, and then stopped because I had too much to say. Basically: It’s great!
I’m not exactly a Tarantino superfan. I love his devotion to cinema, his absolutely kickass movie theater, and, like, a third of his movies. I tend to agree with him more in theory than in practice. What turns me off about his films is also what attracts others to them: Namely, I find the violence excessive in a way that doesn’t have as much to say as people seem to think. And as far as dialogue goes, I find a lot of it not all that enjoyable, serving mainly as filler between hyper-violent scenes.
But ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD uses Tarantino’s trademark violence and dialogue in a way that really, really works. And I am willing to retroactively grant my approval to Tarantino films I didn’t exactly love the first time around, because without them, this movie wouldn’t feel nearly as meaningful.
I am not sure how you would view this movie if you were A) unfamiliar with the Manson Family murders and B) unfamiliar with at least some of Tarantino’s other work. I could write an entire book on point A; there is a raging debate on Twitter where people are complaining that because they’re unaware of one of the most significant events in 20th century American history, they didn’t “get” the film. What do you even say to those people, except…did you end up in the wrong theatre? Are you sure you weren’t trying to see THE LION KING remake instead?
As for point B, you don’t HAVE to have seen other Tarantino films, I guess, but it certainly helps. Because he uses his traditional storytelling techniques to telegraph exactly what is going to happen in this film, if you’re paying attention:
He reminds you of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS by making frequent references to a Nazi film Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) starred in, the FOURTEEN FISTS OF MCCLUSKEY.
He reminds you you’re watching a film—specifically, a Tarantino film—with all the damn bare feet, the soundtrack, the celebrity cameos, the meandering dialogue and seeming non-sequiturs.
He then brings these concepts together to give a “twist” ending that in retrospect is so obvious, it’s genius.
What I love most about ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is that it encourages the viewer to think about what it’s saying with both the in-movie story and all the choices Tarantino makes as a filmmaker. The conclusion is absolutely bananas, pitch-perfect, and says a hell of a lot while still managing to be fun as hell. As for what it’s saying, well…I’ll leave that for the 2309283 MFA theses this movie will surely inspire.