I’m generally not a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s films (although, checking his filmography on IMDB, I’ve seen more of them than I realized), but because I love movies, Hollywood, and stories about showbiz, I had to see Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood. It’s Tarantino’s love letter to what many critics have been calling “the Golden Age of Hollywood” (which isn’t really accurate — I think most cinephiles would agree that some span of years from the 1930s to the 1950s is actually the golden age of cinema, and a strong argument could be made for the auteur era of the 1970s). But however you slice it, the movie is a valentine to Los Angeles in the 1960s: replete with arcane pop-culture references, a groovy top-40 soundtrack, and trippy costumes.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays TV star Rick Dalton, whose star is no longer ascendant; Brad Pitt is Dalton’s pal and longtime stunt double Cliff Booth. As they make their way through a changing film industry, their paths intersect with Charles Manson and his Family and with Dalton’s next-door neighbors, starlet Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski. The film is long, somewhat meandering in its plot, and much less violent than your typical Tarantino outing (a definite plus, in my book). In the end, it’s a fairy tale that celebrates youth, beauty, celebrity, and stoic (male) heroism. As others have noted, the film is very white and fairly sexist. The most self-actualized and feminist thinker in the movie is not a woman — not Sharon Tate or Dalton’s Italian-actress wife — she is Trudi Fraser, an ambitious and precocious 8-year-old actor on Lancer, a TV show on which Dalton is guest-starring. Fraser gives Dalton a crash course in Method acting and female confidence that is delightful to watch, even if it’s wildly implausible.
Once Upon A Time… doesn’t change my opinion of Tarantino as a master of style but not of substance; I always feel there’s a hollowness at the center of his films. But it’s definitely my favorite Tarantino film to date, and a fun night out at the movies.
I’m as real as a donut.
— Manson Family member Tex Watson, Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood