I just got back from seeing Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. (Or Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood. Some versions of the title include the ellipsis, some don’t.) (And yes, I saw it on the 25th. Even though all the publicity says its official u.s. release is the 26th. Go figure.)
I don’t want to say too much, because spoilers. But I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a movie this much.
I mean, I do have some issues with it. From a feminist standpoint it’s actually pretty crap. I might talk about that later. But there’s a lot about it that’s really great – and not just because it hits my L.A. nostalgia buttons (though it does).
I’m usually not too averse to spoilers, but I’m glad I went into this movie not knowing much about the plot. I mean, I knew that it had something to do with a has-been movie actor and his stunt double, and that it also had something to do with Sharon Tate and the Manson Family murders. And those things are fine to know going in. Indeed, if you don’t know anything about Tate or the Manson Family, you’ll get a lot less enjoyment out of the movie, so I’d advise you to look up the basic details before seeing it. But it’s best to know nothing about the movie beyond that, going in.
I’ve seen a number of forgettable movies lately. I mean, literally forgettable. As in: the other day I saw some reference to Men In Black: International, and I thought, “Oh, I’m sorry I missed seeing that when it was in theatres.” And then I remembered that I actually did see it. And pretty much enjoyed it. Thor / Valkyrie team-up, cool. But it obviously didn’t make much of a lasting impact. (Of course that might say as much about my decaying brain cells as about the movie. Or maybe they used one of those devices on me.) After seeing Captain Marvel I was enthusiastically recommending it to friends; and while I certainly haven’t forgotten seeing it, I have a hard time remembering why I was so enthusiastic. But I feel pretty sure this one will stick with me.
Tarantino has said that if things don’t work out with his Star Trek project, this might be his last movie. I hope it’s not; but if it is, it would be a fine note to go out on.
Incidentally: the movie has a mid-credits scene, so you should stay for that. (Actually you should always stay through the entire credits of any movie, be there bonus scenes or not, because it spoils the mood to walk out early; but that’s another discussion.)
I have a couple of more spoilerific things I want to say, so I’ve buried them in the comments below.
SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read farther before you’ve seen the movie.
a) Above, I actually wanted to say “I can’t remember the last time I smiled more during a movie,” but that would have given away that the movie’s not going to have the tragic ending you’d expect.
b) The fact that the tragic ending might be averted had actually occurred to me before seeing the movie. After all, I’d seen Inglourious Basterds, and I’d heard or read Tarantino say about that movie that for him the ending of a movie is dictated by how things would have turned out if his characters had been there, so that he didn’t feel bound by the actual historical course of events. Plus there’s an early scene in Hollywood, where Di Caprio’s character is playing a role in a movie where he blows away a bunch of top Nazi brass with his flamethrower, which is simultaneously a callback to Basterds and a foreshadowing of the ending of Hollywood. Still, this movie seemed so much more realistic and grounded than Basterds that it wasn’t until shortly before the timeline diverged that the probability of its diverging began to rise for me.
c) Although I obviously enjoyed the movie — and in particular, the creepy faux-Western vibe of the Spahn Ranch scene — more than the author of this review did, the review does a good job of identifying some of the film’s defects from a feminist standpoint.
UNAPOLOGETIC SPOILERS THROUGHOUT
I’m just seeing this post now, but evidently, I saw the movie a day or two after the post went up. My wife is from LA, and I asked her whether the movie triggered any nostalgia for her. I don’t remember what she said exactly, but it was something to the effect that nostalgia for LA was about *all* that the movie triggered, at least in a good way. Neither of us outright hated it, but neither of us particularly cared for it.
I read the feminist critique of it that you linked in (c) above. That certainly gets at part of my trouble with the movie, but not the whole thing, and probably not the main thing. I know less about Tarantino than either you or Juzwiak (the author of the Jezebel piece), so much of the Uma Thurman-related backstory was lost on me. I agree with him about the violence-on-women at the end of the movie. (Tarantino compensates by having the the female dog go after the balls of Tex Watson–does that make her a castrating bitch?–but the whole scene struck me as tedious and neurotic. Incidentally, Juzwiak is wrong to say that the Tex Watson character doesn’t suffer “so viscerally.” Maybe this is too literal, but a head injury is not visceral, whereas an injury to the testicles is. So it’s the Tex Watson character who suffers viscerally, not the female character.)
I agree with Juzwiak’s take on the depicton of Sharon Tate, which really sucks in just the way he describes, but some of what he says is puzzling.
1. Cliff killed his wife and got away with it, true; but it isn’t at all clear that he murdered her, so it’s not clear why he shouldn’t have gotten away with “it.” So I’m not clear what Juzwiak is trying to say there.
2. Pussycat does not “seduce” Cliff, so I’m baffled what Juzwiak is trying to say there, too. I take “seduce” to be a success verb. But even if it isn’t, see (3).
3. Juzwiak takes umbrage at the fact that Pussycat offers to give Cliff oral sex: “She wants it!” seems to be the movie’s message, he says. This is one of those cases where feminist discourse not only seems written in a foreign language, but written in one in which normal inferences are suspended for no apparent reason. I mean, call me naive, but don’t women sometimes offer to give men oral sex? I was under the impression that they sometimes did. It’s not really clear that Pussycat wants the sex so much as she wants to be the one offering it, but either way, I don’t see the offense involved. I have not recently heard anyone, male or female, say, in a misogynistic spirit: “You know what I hated most about her? Like all women…she wanted to give oral sex!” By “recently,” I mean within the last three decades or so.
But that’s just nitpicking (and pointing out that Juzwiak spends too much of his review barking up the wrong trees). As I see it, Juzwiak gets at what’s wrong with the film in the decidedly non-feminist parts of his review.
“He likes movies more than he likes people,” my colleague Chris Person said of Tarantino, when I summed up my negative feelings about this movie. I think this is correct.
Yeah. I guess that overlaps with his critique of the movie’s handling of Tate, which, granted, falls technically within the feminist critique part of the review (and which I agree with). But I think the point generalizes to much of the rest of the movie, whether it has feminist bearing or not: Personally, I found the movie flat, tedious, and meandering–more about Tarantino’s idiosyncratic relationship with film than about any of the characters’ relations to any other. It’s not just Tarantino’s depictions of women that are problematic, but his depictions of people, male or female. I’m generally not a big Tarantino fan, and that’s always been the sticking point. What I’ve seen just seems like a pastiche of Ultra Violence + Cardboard Characterization.
Huh. I find characterisation to be one of Tarantino’s strong suits.