Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

August 5, 2019

Tarantino is getting soft.

I mean that in the best possible way. This movie has so much heart. It’s about second chances, a love of Hollywood, and a love of actors and who they are and what they do.

After making two westerns, Tarantino tells a story about a couple of guys who make westerns, who gave their youths to Hollywood and didn’t get a whole lot in return. Oh, and one of them lives next door to Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski in 1969.

**Obligatory spoiler warning. I don’t say what happens but I imply it, and it’s really hard to tell what’s giving away too much on this one.**

I have a friend speculating about whether anyone under thirty will get the references, will know what this is about and what’s going to happen. In my group of three who went to see this, we all pinged to appearance of the Manson Family at different times. For me, as soon as the crowd of willowy hippie girls appeared, dumpster diving and singing sweetly, I knew.  I spent the next three hours in a state of growing dread.

That thing Tarantino does in his movies? That leisurely, excruciating pacing where people are talking and nothing is happening and it’s taking so long but you know, you just know something terrible is about to happen? Probably the best example is early in Inglourious Basterds, when the Nazi officer just keeps talking and the whole time you’re wondering if he knows about the Jewish family hiding under the floor or not.  Tarantino does this to some extent, scene by scene, in all his movies.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — he extends this technique to the entire movie. The whole thing is a leisurely portrait of almost-washed-up actor Rick Dalton and his stuntman turned personal assistant Cliff Booth. About halfway through, Cliff has a run-in with the Manson Family at the ranch. It’s filmed like a western, and it’s creepy and sinister and awful. And Cliff knows this gang is seriously bad news and gets the hell out. Then, months later…

The film flips the goddamn table. My god. I spent three hours sure I knew what was going to happen, and then… I can tell you the instant I realized I didn’t know what was going to happen anymore. It’s gorgeous.

This is all on purpose, by design. Sure, you could cut out a lot of the dialog, the long drives out of the Valley, the self-indulgent interludes. But then it wouldn’t be a Tarantino movie, and the massive catharsis when that tension breaks and the blood starts flying and the flame throwers come out wouldn’t be the same.

I think my favorite thing this movie does, though, is humanize Sharon Tate. For fifty years she’s been the victim of this lurid awful crime and nothing else. Here, she gets this big long sequence where she can’t resist grinning up at the theater marque with her name on it. She talks her way in to see the film, and delights in the reactions of the audience to her performance.  This is a woman who loves movies, loves being in them. She’s super relatable and it’s great spending time with her. Margot Robbie’s big grin through this is wonderful and heartbreaking, because you know…you think you know…what’s going to happen to her.

But like I said, this is a movie about second chances.

Now, I want the annotated version.


2 Responses to “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”

  1. Carbonman Says:

    Carrie, thanks for the insightful review. We’re going to see this next weekend. I can hardly wait!

  2. Vickie Browning Says:

    My 16-year-old daughter and I saw it this past weekend. She was super into the movie, maybe even more than I was. I loved this movie.

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