Many things can be said about Quentin Tarantino’s film career whatever the opinion, but the words boring or cliché will definitely not be anywhere in the discussion. Every single film he produces brings something fresh to the table whether it be a crime thriller about a heist gone terribly wrong or a western about a slave hellbent on revenge. For his newest film, Tarantino travels back to late-1960s Hollywood and attempts to capture the magic of old filmmaking in an ode to the works that inspired him when he was coming up. Unfortunately, it appears that Tarantino fails to do anything but pay homage to old Hollywood and create some humorous scenarios. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood plays out like a franchise superhero movie that is full of references for fans but forgets to have any plot of its own. Fans of film in general will find references and Easter eggs to adore in nearly every scene, but those who want a good story or anything that isn’t Tarantino’s fantasies will be disappointed.
The film follows near-obsolete actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they navigate the world of 1969 Hollywood in the time span of two (and a half) days. It also briefly focuses on their neighbor Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) as she has fun with her husband and looks back on her career. To be quite honest, describing the plot of this film is quite difficult because there really is no solid narrative. The audience is introduced to the two main characters through a TV interview and for many scenes after that, I waited for some kind of conflict or narrative to be introduced. Nothing ever comes. Some films can get away with having no real plot or conflict because the message justifies it, but Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood feels like a string of scenes that Tarantino thought would adequately show off his movie knowledge.
If one walks into this film expecting nothing but a decently funny comedy, then that expectation might be met. The best moments of the movie are scenes that are simply meant to be funny, and there are quite a lot of them scattered throughout. A big reason many of these moments land is Brad Pitt’s charismatic lead performance. Every single scene that Pitt has dialogue in is more interesting because he breathes life into even the stalest of scenes. One of the more entertaining scenes is a prolonged sequence near the end where Pitt simply feeds a dog. He plays it with such dry humor that it leaps off the screen and has the audience more engaged than the scenes that attempt emotion or action.
In comparison, the scenes with Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie’s characters drag. Both of their stories have themes that will hit home for anybody that works in the entertainment industry or that looks back at their career in any field with fondness, but it isn’t profound enough to warrant the amount of pointless dialogue the audience has to sit through. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is two hours and 41 minutes long, and boy does it feel that length. By the time the third act started, I already wanted to stand up, get out of the theater, and do something else with my life. It didn’t help that Robbie’s story as Sharon Tate is completely useless and is only included in the film so Tarantino can reflect on himself and present his idyllic version of Hollywood.
Once storytelling finally does start, it is done in a lazy and thrown-together fashion, with pointless narration doing all of the work Tarantino must not have cared enough to put effort into. The last act of the film is ludicrous, and while I get where Tarantino is trying to take the audience, it just feels like he is messing around and doesn’t care about any actual points he gets across. This film feels like one giant inside joke for nerds and people in Hollywood like Tarantino that no one else is likely to understand. His handling of the Sharon Tate murder and of legend Bruce Lee just tell me that he wants Hollywood to be a creation which he can manipulate in order to fulfill his own fever dreams.
Of course, Tarantino is still proficient at dialogue and camerawork, and the production design and acting are top-notch. I just wish all of the talent that comes along with his films was put into a more worthy project. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is funny enough to sit down and watch once, but it is too self-indulgent and pandering to simply enjoy as a narrative piece of literature. Props must be given to Tarantino for remaining outside the reaches of typical big-budget storytelling, but he tries so hard to impress audiences regarding his own talent and knowledge of film history that he forgets to simply make a compelling film.
I give Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood a C.