Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: I Have Words

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood takes us back to 1969 in a way that only Quentin Tarantino can do so, while completely wasting Margot Robbie.

After viewing the film, I can safely say that Inglorious Basterds remains my favorite Quentin Tarantino film.  While the third act of Hollywood is entertaining, I really wish I could say more about the rest of the film.  For the large majority, we’re viewing the film through actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).  Cliff isn’t just Rick’s double but his driver and friend.  There’s a close bond between the two.  Chances are likely that this isn’t something that happens in this Hollywood era.  If it is, nobody really talks about it.  Dalton got his stardom in Hollywood by way of Bounty Law in the 50s and 60s.  Like many television actors, Dalton made the transition to a film.  He could never make it work like George Clooney and Woody Harrelson would do in few decades down the road.

Tarantino manages to stay true to history with some of the choices.  Bounty Law just happened to be filmed on Spahn’s Movie Ranch.  We’ll see George Spahn (Bruce Dern) for a brief moment when Cliff makes a visit to the ranch when he drops off Pussycat (Margaret Qualley).  It really feels as if the scene on the ranch is only in the film for historical purposes only.  Outside of adding context with a reference or two to Charlie, the scene feels wholly unnecessary if you ask me.

I stayed away from reading reviews when the film premiered at Cannes in May.  But when you spend time on social media, even the small things feel inescapable.  All of this notwithstanding, I went into the film as blind as possible.  This is all to say that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood did not live up to the hype.  Not for me at least.  I’m going to get into this in a moment here.

The performances from DiCaprio and Pitt are nothing out of the ordinary.  They both get some fun moments especially when DiCaprio breaks down on set and cries.  Their performances are to be expected for this type of film.  What’s very disappointing is when some other performances, such as that of Mike Moh’s Bruce Lee, become a complete caricature.  Moreover, Lee makes a reference to Muhammad Ali during a flashback scene.  The problem is that this takes place a few years following Ali’s name change…but Lee references him by using his former name.  The film didn’t sit well with me when it ended and it was for good reason.  I’m coming from this perspective as a transgender woman and know a thing or two about name changes.

The problem that I had with the film is the use of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).  Robbie is the third-billed lead and yet she has so little dialogue.  The film completely wastes her.  This feels like a real shame when we know what happens to Tate in real life.  In an interesting twist, Tarantino decides to place Rick Dalton’s home right next to Tate’s residence with Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha).  Again, Tate’s use in the film feels wholly unnecessary.  If Tarantino wanted to look at Hollywood in 1969 through Dalton and Booth’s eyes, I would have had no problem.  But he decides to throw in Tate for historical context and then not give her much dialogue.  It feels like Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch) gets more dialogue in the film!

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is going to be a love it or hate it film.  Margot Robbie’s talents are completely wasted.  All I can really do here is tell you how I feel on Quentin Tarantino’s choices without going into spoiler territory.  I get wanting to look at a different period of history and there’s nothing wrong with that.  We get some historical figures of the era.  Tarantino utilizes some of his former actors in filling out some of the cameos, especially the Westerns.  At the end of the day, I didn’t like the film, which is upsetting in its own right.

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER:  Quentin Tarantino
CAST:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, and Al Pacino

Columbia Pictures opens Once Upon A Time in Hollywood in theaters on July 26, 2019. Grade: 3/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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