Not long after sitting down to take in Once Upon a Time . . . In Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s latest, a stranger took the seat next to me. Having some time before the film began, this person decided to express to me her excitement at seeing it. Hahahahahahaha! Joke’s on you, lady! Why do I say this? Because she got up and left an hour before it finished.
Have you ever watched television with somebody with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)? The constant jumping from channel to channel, never settling on one thing, and watching just enough of something to get aggravated by the fact that you have no clue what is going on? That pretty much sums up Once Upon a Time . . . In Hollywood.
It is abundantly obvious that Tarantino loves classic Hollywood. When he began his latest spate of movies with Kill Bill in 2003, he began packing them full of references to the by-gone era of film-making in the 1960s and 1970s. With Kill Bill, there was the old-school CinemaScope introduction, and camera work that evinced the spaghetti westerns that he seems to believe were cinematic gold. This became a style that found its way into Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, and each time Tarantino slipped further into anachronistic movie-making that is becoming more of a distraction than anything else. It was endearing in the previous four films, leaving out the insipid Hateful Eight, of course. In Once Upon a Time . . . In Hollywood, it was tedious.
I guess I will talk a little about the plot here and why I found it so hard to get through, and I throw in the obligatory spoiler alert here. Once Upon a Time . . . In Hollywood focuses on Hollywood in 1969, and specifically on the lives of some very real actors popular at that time, such as Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Tarantino invents the characters of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), though (and I will hand it to Tarantino here) they felt real enough where I had to look them up just to be sure. He also shoehorns in the Manson family for good measure. So these are all people that existed in Hollywood in 1969 and they did things.
Not specific enough? Neither was Once Upon a Time . . . In Hollywood. It had to juggle the plot lines of Dalton, Booth, and Tate, and none of them had a whole lot to do with each other outside of the fact that Dalton and Booth were friends. Dalton was trying to make it as an actor, but he had no real motivation as a character. Booth was along for the ride. And Tate was just Tate, and she was depicted as being vapid and without substance, not even wanting to pay the seventy-five cents to see her own movie. By the way, Tate was in the movie theater watching her own film, and this roughly half of her screen time. And if you know your history, the whole time you think this is leading up to the Manson family murders of Tate and her friends. The bait-and-switch that does occur with the showdown and subsequent mow-down of the would-be hippie attackers by Booth and his dog was actually my favorite part of the film. The amount of time and frustration to get there, with bits and pieces of plots, other films (by the way, never put a good movie like The Great Escape inside of your crappy movie), and fake films-within-films almost made me join the woman in leaving the cinema early. I just could not see a point.
Thankfully there was no gratuitous nudity, or nakedness of any kind, which I feared given the subject matter and historical setting of Once Upon a Time . . . In Hollywood. Violence, yes, though surprisingly less over-the-top than your typical Tarantino fare, excepting the final scene of course. Booth knocks down a hippie by throwing a can of dog food at her, which caught me by surprise. But I really do not have anything to recommend this movie, either as a Catholic or your garden variety film buff. If you want good Tarantino, watch Inglorious Basterds.