Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Director: Quentin Tarantino
I’d almost decided to begin my essay on this latest (and apparently last) Tarantino film by saying farewell to the auteur director and his signature, fetishised worlds of gratuitous, cartoon-ish violence and hyper-machismo. We had a lovely time, amazing movies, good-bye forever. You get the idea...
But ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ has exceeded my expectations!
Yes, the violence is still gratuitous – anyone for annihilating hippies with a flame-thrower? But it is his use of his disposable Barbie doll characters that have widened Tarantino’s brutal and comedic comments on reality for me. He has always pushed the misogynistic envelope with as much relish as that other great auteur, Hitchcock (Janet, Tippy, Grace meet Uma, Darryl, Margot, et al) but in 'Once Upon a Time' he is really calling it out.
To note is that in ‘Once Upon a Time’, Sharon Tate’s (Margo Robbie) go-go boots almost don’t touch the ground. She is as breezily beautiful and carefree as a fairy-dusted shampoo advertisement, and her importance in the film ‒ as a constant reminder of historical events as well as epitomising an elusive Hollywood dream ‒ is critical in every sense. We expect the gore and horror of known history almost from the film's beginning.
Then we have our hero Brad Pitt, who in fact plays the stunt man to an alcoholic, cowboy Hollywood movie star (Leonardo DiCaprio). He’s the one that looks like the movie star in real life (the shirtless scene on a Hollywood roof repairing an antennae almost puts Chris Hemsworth’s ‘Thor’ to shame). We know he’s a war hero, we know he can take out the bad guys with ease but we really aren’t sure if he has killed his wife and not been convicted?? In Hollywood? Surely not!
There are the hippies of course – courtesy of Charles Manson’s ‘family’ – who come to kill the ‘piggies’ of Hollywood Hills. Boy, do they get a surprise. They're not even the ones who are tripping.
The cast! Ye Gods! Anybody, everybody and inter-generational! Bruce Willis’ and Uma Thurman's daughters (by separate partners) get parts, along with many of the old faithfuls including Kurt Russell. There's a whole new crop of talent including Dakota Fanning (as the Manson family's 'Squeaky'), Margaret Qualley and a bevy of beauties playing under-aged hippies with names like ‘Pussy’.. the meta-textual references will make your head spin!
Again, I’m not sure if Tarantino is rolling in the muck of Hollywood culture or putting it out there as part of his farewell gesture. ‘Once Upon a Time’ does seem to intentionally go beyond his usual focus (hyper-violence and machismo) to include a very specific message about the treatment of women and girls in Hollywood culture and that made me reconsider.
Tarantino as a closet feminist? Hmmmm???
Highly recommended if you can stomach the cartoon-ish gore.