Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood -- A-
I know Tarantino is somewhat problematic in terms of his portrayal of women and his treatment of them on and off camera, but damn if he isn't one of our generation's finest filmmakers.
Anchored by a fantastic performance by #LeonardoDiCaprio, #QuentinTarantino's ninth film is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through late '60s L.A, authentically and naturally played by the city itself circa 2018. Of course, the film's not perfect -- I still have a big issue with how QT portrays women (as objects of his foot fetish and worse), but I can't help but enjoy the ride. Plus, I'm a sucker for Hollywood nostalgia wrapped up in a twisted fairy-tale bow.
DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, the star of a popular TV Western whose career is on a downturn, and Brad Pitt is his best friend/driver/assistant and stuntman Cliff Booth. Roman Polanski and his new wife, the talented starlet Sharon Tate, have just moved into the rented house next door to Dalton's in the tony Benedict Canyon neighborhood. And then there's the Manson family, made up mostly of young women, lurking around the edges...
What follows is one of Tarantino's patented pastiches -- a joyous mix of non-linear narrative, flashback, voice-over storytelling , vivid violence, unexpected comedy, thriller-esque tension, character study, song-packed soundtracks, genre homages, film-within-film and most importantly, revisionist history.
The gang's all here, with Tarantino veterans Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Kurt Russell and stuntwoman Zoe Bell joining Pitt and DiCaprio in the cast. What's really fun is spotting the second-generation actors joining the company. Among them are Maya Hawke (Uma Thurman), Rumer Willis (Bruce Willis), Margaret Qualley (Andie MacDowell), Harley Quinn Smith (Kevin Smith), Lorenza Izzo (Eli Roth's ex-wife) and Daniella Pick, who just happens to be married to Tarantino.
But I would (rightfully) have my feminist bonafides taken away if I didn't note that DiCaprio's character is the only one who gets anything close to a true character arc, which leaves the talented Margot Robbie with very, very little to play, except beautiful, beatific '60s starlet. The Manson women fare a tiny bit better, with Qualley a standout, as well as Dakota Fanning as the famed Squeaky Fromme and Mikey Madison (Better Things) as Sadie Atkins.
No matter how you slice it, though, the female characters do not fare well in this bromance. They're pushed to the background and viewed either as objects or commune-dwelling freaks. There's no attempt whatsoever to delve into why and how Charles Manson was able to seduce, wrangle and transform these girls into potential mass murderers. In fact, Manson barely makes an appearance.
QT doesn't just swing and miss -- he keeps his bat on his shoulder and takes the walk, which makes for a less than satisfying overall experience. But again, damn if I didn't enjoy the character byplay and the signature Tarantino flourishes.
The ending, with its historically revisionist conclusion a la Inglorious Basterds, has stirred controversy. I get that the violence is disturbing -- it often is in a Tarantino picture. But I loved both film's climaxes. I experienced them as powerful, cathartic turnarounds. Plus, the movie's title Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, suggests that the film can and should be seen as a fairy tale -- which wouldn't be complete without a happy ending.
Finally, I found much joy in playing what a friend calls "Tarantino Bingo," spotting these recurring elements -- homages to the Western, WWII movies, Bruce Lee, classic cars, Red Apple Cigarettes (including a hilarious mid-credit sequence), movies within movies, random flashbacks, the mention of Toluca Lake, LAX's famous tiled hallway and a shot of a Pan Am jet in the air. And hell, it just wouldn't be a Tarantino film without a lingering shot of a pair of propped up bare feet.