Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood fits perfectly into Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood might be the most heartwarming movie about the Manson murders ever created.  While that sounds a bit like the punchline of a black-humored joke, prolific director Quentin Tarantino takes the tumultuous year of 1969 and projects his own love for cinema upon its memorable backdrop. 

The films two leads are fictional men in the film industry. One is slightly boozy and definitely anxious Rick Dalton, a has-been cowboy actor of the late ’50s played by Leonardo Dicaprio. The other is his stunt double turned quasi personal assistant Cliff Booth, brought to life by a California-cool Brad Pitt. 

Both men are staring down at the downward slope of their careers, desperately trying to find their footing in the changing industry they once fully belonged in.

As Rick grapples with his fate and his age, his next-door neighbor is the complete antithesis. Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) represents the new age of Hollywood. Sharon is fresh-faced and innocent, just breaking into the business, and, perhaps most importantly, (infamous historical spoiler alert!) fated to be murdered in the summer of ‘69. 

The plot of the movie sticks with Rick and Cliff much more, but Sharon and her seemingly endless supply of a happy early ‘70s entourage serve as a constant reminder of what’s to come and as a tether to the overall timeline. 

Throughout the film, Tarantino’s recurring traits that are present in practically all his films make appearances. The auteur’s recognizable whip-smart dialogue is my favorite aspect of his films, and his ninth movie is no different. So many of the conversations had me, and the rest of the audience, heartily laughing out loud. There was one point near the end when I legitimately slapped my knee. 

Another characteristic of the director that makes some obsessed with him, or conversely makes him hard to stand, is the sheer amount of content in his films. Not only length (although Once is rather long at two hours and forty-five minutes) but also just how much information is thrown at the audience. At times it can be hard to keep track of, and other times it feels like useless minutiae. Scenes seem to stretch on far too long with no real reason for why they were included in a movie with a final cut of nearly three hours.

But Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was made with care. If the viewer stays involved, they’ll get a wonderful payoff. Small details are brought back, and plotlines that seem detached are weaved together in a way that makes movie watching not only fun but rewarding. 

However, for those unwilling to put in the effort, the film will likely feel rather slow. 

Perhaps Tarantino’s most distinguishable trademark is the violence found in his movies. Yes, this film contains gore, but it’s not without rhyme or reason. Unlike some films, it’s not violence for violence’s sake, it has an intention, and, without revealing anything, makes the ending more satisfying. 

The whole movie is pure entertainment. Dicaprio, Pitt, and Robbie, supported by a slew of recognizable faces in cameos, light up the screen whenever they’re on it. It’s impossible to say one over the other was a “scene-stealer” when I found myself fully invested into everyone’s arcs. 

Yet, the movie was made for more than just providing a fun couple of hours of enjoyment. The story of those two men in 1969 was used as a catalyst for more than that. 

It’s less nostalgic than it is poignant. The film may centralize on Rick and Cliff, but it boils down to an elegiac love letter to Sharon Tate and what she could have meant for the Hollywood Tarantino so obviously reveres in the film. 

As the title suggests, it’s a fairy tale; but, by the end of the movie, this fantasy is one some wish was a reality; For others, it’s a world they feel that they have already overstayed their welcome in.