After I saw “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” my friend asked what I thought of it. He hadn’t seen it yet, but the trailer looked great, Tarantino is great and the actors are great — so the movie must be great. After two hours and 40 minutes of slow scenes and several loosely connected character plots, I told him that I found it exhausting and a little boring. And like every dude who loves vinyl and film and has a Pulp-Fiction-themed wallet, he responded, “You just haven’t seen ‘The Hateful Eight,’” which is even longer.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is about failed Western actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), his stunt double/chauffer/best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the Manson trials and a bunch of other people who gallivanted around Hollywood in 1969. The movie goes through their lives, love-interests and careers — sometimes connected, sometimes not. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is about loss of identity, and in some cases, humbling new beginnings. It’s about strange friendship (Ricky and Cliff) and companionship (Tate and Sebring). It’s chock full of all the tension of the summer of love.
The $14 ticket and Tarantino’s name were about the only things keeping me there — besides maybe a few tense scenes with the Manson girls (why’d they put Lena Dunham in there?) and other ’60s Easter eggs. In the last 10 minutes, everything is neatly tied together. It’s synchronous execution almost made me forget I was uninterested — almost.
Aside from the ending, there were a few moments that captured my attention. Yes, most scenes were slow. But the good slow scenes were rich with character development. We see Sharon Tate going to watch her first feature film after not being recognized by the theater’s ticket booth worker. Her smirk grew with every laugh — her on-screen self pulled from the audience as she watched with them. When Cliff comes home to his dog and one-room trailer, the way the camera lingers on his nightly routine is more calming than sad. I found scenes with Rick the hardest to focus on, but when he thrashes in his changing room after repeatedly forgetting his lines, it feels raw and real. In fact, Tarantino outlines the development of so many characters that we forget there’s a plot-line altogether. Or wonder what the plot-line is, until the very end where, in a classic Tarantino style, all threads ties together.
My friend had a point. “The Hateful Eight” is a whopping 27 minutes longer than “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” running for three hours and seven minutes. “Once Upon a Time” isn’t especially long or period-heavy for Tarantino. The gore, by Tarantino standards, was minimal, and the ending was unusually positive or at least neutral. The movie received an 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. On that point, however, rotten and ripe reviewers alike seem to agree that the film is a little masturbatory, and they have a point. I imagine Tarantino yelling at me from behind the screen like, “Hey! You! I’m still at it! Look at that Jim Morrison reference! I know you love watching Cadillacs ride through the LA canyons!”
I would be remiss not to mention Tarantino’s defense of Roman Polanski, or his apology for not protecting women from Harvey Weinstein’s abusive behavior, or him forcing Uma Thurman into the “Kill Bill” car crash that permanently damaged her knees and neck. I’m not saying Tarantino should be praised for his character, or, really, for anything. But his films are an unavoidably important part of the modern movie canon. I don’t know if “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” will be one of Tarantino’s greats, but I don’t know if it’ll kill his career either.
Sometimes, formative parts of our lives don’t look interesting. In some ways, “Once Upon a Time” is more realistic than the average movie. Movie critic Matt Singer praised the film, writing in his Rotten Tomatoes review that it was “Tarantino’s sweetest movie since ‘Jackie Brown.’” Singer also tweeted that the movie was a “Good watch upon repeat.” Maybe it’s fair for Tarantino to not overstimulate his audience with action, swears and gore. Maybe — though still bait for white men nostalgic for a time they didn’t live in — “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” offers us something new. Maybe I’ll watch it again — if I have nothing else going on that night.
Caramia Putman | firstname.lastname@example.org