Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
If you are an adult with a brain and you’re fed up with all the youth-oriented fluff at the multiplex this summer, you might want to see director Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a time in Hollywood. It’s not comic book superheroes, cute talking animals, a sequel to a previous movie, or a female-oriented melodrama. It’s a completely fictional story, set in Hollywood in 1969, although some of the characters are (or were) real people, principally Sharon Tate. And, no, the story is not a bloody recreation of her murder exactly fifty years ago and the murder of five other people (including Sharon’s unborn baby) at the hands of a group of Charles Manson-inspired hippies. Writer-director Quentin Tarantino presents an “alternative history” version of the crime in which the only people who die are the ones who deserve it. If you saw his movie Inglourious Basterds (misspelling intentional), you know this is not the first time he has fabricated an alternate ending, for the very simple reason, I suppose, that he’s in charge and he’s making a lot of stuff up because that’s what an “artist” does. It’s called “poetic license.”
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a TV cowboy star, with a successful series called Bounty Law. Brad Pitt is Cliff Booth, Rick Dalton’s stunt man, friend and factotum. They are likeable fellows, trying to navigate the nearly unnavigable waters of 1969 Hollywood. (Cliff isn’t popular among movie people because he has, presumably, killed his wife and gotten away with it.) Rick rents a house in the Hollywood Hills next door to budding actress Sharon Tate and her movie director husband Roman Polanski. She has been in a few movies by this time in 1969, including Valley of the Dolls. Roman Polanski is very “hot” in 1969 because he directed the hit movie Rosemary’s Baby the previous year.
There’s not a lot of story in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Cliff Booth commiserates with his pal Rick Dalton and rides around Hollywood a lot in Rick’s yellow Cadillac. He meets and is obviously (inexplicably) attracted to an underage female hippie named Pussy. When he gives her a ride back to her hippie commune (or whatever it’s called), he has a tense encounter with a band of repellent hippies, who, we find out later (or maybe we just deduce it) are in the thrall of creepy Charles Manson. I think this is the best sequence in the entire movie.
Rick Dalton, in the meantime, drinks a lot and stands by helplessly while his acting career fizzles out. He gives up his successful TV series in pursuit of a movie career, which never really takes off the way he wishes it would. He ends up going to Italy to make “spaghetti westerns.” When he returns to Hollywood, he has more money than he had before and an Italian wife who doesn’t speak English, but his career is still in the doldrums and will probably never get any better.
In the absence of good summer movies, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is worth seeing and will probably be a big hit with its “star power” and its “name” director. It’s colorful and nostalgic, if you happen to feel nostalgic for 1969 miniskirts, blasting period music, powerful cars, hippies, 75-cent movies, smoking anywhere, no Internet, no cell phones, and no political correctness. The ending is violent, with a special kind of bizarre, grotesque violence that is the trademark of any Quentin Tarantino movie. The punishment that Cliff Booth metes out to the invading hippies is gratifying and almost worth the price of admission alone. Will somebody please shut her up?
Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp