On a whim, I went out to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on Saturday. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I’d previously seen the Kill Bill films and Django Unchained, but nothing else from the movie’s director, Quetin Tarantino. Going in, I was expecting a tongue in cheek ultra-violent ride. Instead, I got something much different. It’s a movie filled with a lot of dialogue and slow, drawn-out scenes, with a bit of ultra-violence sprinkled in.
The movie takes place in 1969 Los Angeles and is about Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a Hollywood actor best known for his now-canceled western tv series Bounty Law, and his stunt double on the show and best friend, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Once Upon a Time in Hollywood follows their day to day lives as they struggle to stay relevant in a changing Hollywood.
It starts off very loose and unfocused. Scenes seem random, and for the first third of the movie, I didn’t know where it was headed or was striving for. Yet, as the film unfolds, things that I didn’t realize were foreshadowing for a future scene turn out to be just that, and it actually starts to seem very deliberate. It never entirely turns into a cohesive product though. While the end products were entertaining short scenes, the build-up was dull, and a lot of these scenes don’t really go anywhere.
I will say without spoiling anything that the climax is worth it, but, dang the journey to get there is long. It’s two hours and 45 minutes long, and I felt every minute of it. This is definitely a movie I would have preferred to watch at home, where I could knit or cross-stitch during it.
I wouldn’t say the movie was terrible, even if I have been quite harsh on it up until this point. I enjoyed the characters of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth. They’re both very flawed men that I couldn’t help but love and hate at the same time. They create exciting contrasts with each other. Rick Dalton is an emotional alcoholic who cries a lot but seems to always come out on top. On the other end of the spectrum is Cliff, a talented and laidback stunt double with a tendency toward violence. Despite being far more skilled than Rick, Cliff has not had nearly the same level of success. Rick lives in a mansion; Cliff lives in a trailer. It’s interesting to see the differences between the two and how the two stick together despite it. These characters were definitely my favorite part of the movie. Leonardo Dicaprio’s performance is pretty good, but it’s Brad Pitt who really steals the show.
For anyone who loves the 60’s, this movie is sure to be a delight for the references alone. Music, television shows, and more are all referenced. Sadly, I know very little about the ’60s as I was born in 1992. Most of it went over my head. Call me when Tarantino fills a movie with references to the 2000s, I suppose.
All in all, while it wasn’t what I expected, it was a difficult journey that I think is worth watching once. I liked it just as much as I disliked it (although I think no one is going to understand what I mean by that until they see it). It just meanders a lot and tries to be a little overly pretentious without a lot of entertainment value in parts.
My grade: B-