You may remember that in October 2018, I reviewed a film called Bad Times at the El Royale. I really enjoyed that movie, which took place in the sixties, featured a star-studded cast, and mainly revolved around a Charles Manson-esque serial killer. I called it “Tarantino-esque Fun”. Now, we have Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood from Quentin Tarantino himself, which takes place in the sixties, featured a star-studded cast, and was said to revolve around Charles Manson.
I can say there are a few differences here though, Bad Times is much more of a thriller while this is more of a dramedy. I also enjoyed watching Bad Times and found this movie to be a massively underwhelming, somewhat dull, and meandering disappointment. I mean, everything seemed like it was going to be great, right? Tarantino, a ton of great actors, a cool set-up with the Manson murders, as well as a character named Daulton, even if they did spell it wrong. Everything seemed to say that this would be an incredible movie, so went wrong? Well, allow me to tell you why in the review of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.
So to start with the good, and there actually is a lot of good, this film has some great performances. Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth are incredible in this. They have a bond that you can sense and the back and forth camaraderie that they have is entertaining to watch. However, the best performance easily belongs to Mike Moh as Bruce Lee. Actually, I think I can just say Bruce Lee because Moh replicates Lee so well. He probably has one of the best scenes in the movie with Brad Pitt, which was shown in the trailer, but was still very fun to watch. The rest of the cast including Margaret Qualley, Al Pacino, and Dakota Fanning are also really good here.
I was also a big fan of the production design. The costuming, hair styling, and set design was really good. The posters they did for Rick were pretty realistic, especially the Mad Magazine hanging up which I could totally see being done. There’s also one set decoration that I spotted somewhat early in the film that does come back later for a scene, while somewhat predictable, was still amazing. The costuming was great, with the many outfits having more character than some of the actual characters (Cough, Sharon Tate). Speaking of Tate, I have to give those in charge of makeup and hair credit when it comes to her, as she looked incredibly like Sharon Tate.
That pretty much wraps up the positives of the film. Sure there’s some good cinematography, a few good lines, and some characters, but there isn’t nearly enough to say about them. Now, I have two major gripes about Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, the first being the story, or really the lack thereof. I looked at my watch about eighty minutes into this one hundred and sixty one minute movie and thought to myself “Huh, that’s weird. We’re halfway through and pretty much nothing has happened yet.”
Even Hateful Eight had something important happen within the first hour or so. This film has nothing of note happen storywise until Brad Pitt starts driving the girl who filmed the “Environmental Statement” in The Nice Guys. Then after that scene, we get about another hour of nothingness and then we get to the climax, which I’ll admit was pretty cool, but the fact that there’s pretty much no story to this film that’s over one hundred and sixty minutes.
That brings me to my final point of the film. I don’t believe this is a spoiler, but to cover my bases, I’ll say it might be. Here goes, the Sharon Tate Murders contribute literally nothing to the movie. You can cut Tate out and the only thing you’re missing is “Hey look, it’s Roman Polanski. He directed Rosemary’s Baby.” She only appears in about five or six scenes, excluding scenes where she drives by DiCaprio’s house and they say “Hey look, it’s Roman Polanski. He directed Rosemary’s Baby.” I’m pretty sure in half the scenes she does appear in, she’ll probably have at most ten lines. Margot Robbie, who is a good actor sans Suicide Squad, is servicable here, but she just isn’t given enough time to make it a “Best Supporting Actress” push that I have heard from so many people.
That’s not even mentioning the lack of Charles Manson, and this is the first time someone has said “We want more Charles Manson!” but it’s true. I’m going to tell you every scene that Manson appeared in the film. Let’s look at the list here, there’s the scene from the trailer where he waves at Sharon Tate, and that’s it. That is the only time that Charles Manson appears in this entire movie. Is he mentioned a few times? Sure. Does he cause the climax of the movie? There is a line that proves it. Besides that, you can cut him and Sharon Tate out extremely easily, and I’ll show you how.
So first, just make the director someone else, which is extremely easy. Have Rick Dalton say “Hey look, it’s Mike Nichols. He directed The Graduate.” or something like that. Then at the end, just have Nichols come down and invite Dalton for a drink. With that, you can get rid of Sharon Tate, saving yourself probably fifteen minutes of runtime and paying Margot Robbie. You can still have the allusion to good ol Charlie with lines like “Charlie’s gonna dig you.” that arguably would have worked better.
The funny thing is, that line is followed a few moments later by “I really wanted you to meet Charlie.” Yeah, so did I, but he was only here for a minute!” Just cut the one scene of Manson walking up to Tate’s house and boom, the only difference is that it’s shorter and has tighter storytelling.
So there you have it, my review of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, and as you can tell, I found it pretty disappointing, and not a single one of my coworkers who have been trying to tell me why this is a masterclass work of art, which it is not. “Oh, it’s supposed to be meandering because life is meandering.” I’m not allowed to curse here, but let’s just say there’s a bull doing to a pile of feces the same thing that Roman Polanski did so he can’t enter the United States anymore. (Okay, that joke might have been too dark, but I had the idea and wanted to just throw it in and see if it made it.) That is ridiculous!
Even the worst Tarantino movies, which still for the most part are really good, have a narrative that goes somewhere. Death Proof is by most to be considered the worst of Tarantino, but it still had a narrative that ended up actually going somewhere. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is definitely my least favorite film from Tarantino. However, I would still recommend seeing it even after I just dragged it through the mud. The performances are pretty good, it has a nice production value, and Tarantino always gives a few good scenes. That doesn’t excuse it however from the extremely lackluster storytelling from one of the top tier screenwriters in Hollywood at the moment. Overall, this movie is more prolonged and tedious than that ellipsis in the title.