Quentin Tarantino is back! The 9th film from the so-called "Godfather of indie films" turns the self-indulgence and self-referential humor up to 11 while inexplicably doing everything he can to derail an otherwise enjoyable film. That's right, folks. The worst thing about Tarantino's latest film is ... Tarantino. But, despite Tarantino trying so hard to be the most Tarantino possible, the final product is still a somewhat enjoyable one, thanks entirely to its once-in-a-generation collaboration between two of modern Hollywood's most recognizable stars. Which makes all the Tarantino aspects of this film that much more frustrating.
Before I trash Tarantino's distracting storytelling style, I should tell you -- like every self-proclaimed film buff, I love his films. When his style works, it's iconic. I will never forget how I felt when Lt. Hicox held up three fingers the wrong way. ("Inglourious Basterds") Or when Pumpkin decided to hold up a random diner that's actually not-so-random. ("Pulp Fiction") Or when any Christoph Waltz character did anything in a Tarantino film. When it works, it works! But when it doesn't, you'll find yourself bored out of your mind, wanting to scream at the screen to move along. This film DRAGS. The Hateful Eight did too, but that film also heavily featured a Tarantino trait that is sorely lacking for most of Once Upon a Time ... tension. Without any sort of tension, Tarantino's overzealous style becomes glaringly distracting, and it does everything it can to derail an otherwise perfectly enjoyable film. Also, where are the women? The male gaze is disturbingly obvious here. Margot Robbie has nothing to do here but be caught squarely in Tarantino's male gaze. About 2 hours in, when Sharon Tate (Robbie) finally goes to a local movie theater to watch herself in one of her films, she had had basically one line of meaningless dialogue the entire film. (Yes, that one scene from the trailer is basically her only meaningful scene in the entire film) For the first 2 hours Tarantino spent more time uncomfortably checking her out with the camera than actually letting her speak. Not to mention Squeaky (Dakota Fanning) has one scene. She was probably on set for a single day. Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) has one scene, too, and it's there entirely to serve one of the male leads. And I haven't even mentioned the controversy surrounding Bruce Lee's character, which is a major problem in and of itself. There are problems everywhere with this film.
Maybe it's because Tarantino has unlimited budget and clout in Hollywood at this point, because this film is also so charming. When you accept this film is essentially a buddy picture between two best friends who happen to be played by two of the biggest stars in the world, who have somehow never shared a silver screen before, in a nostalgia-driven 1960s fantasia Hollywood, yes, you will have a good time. Leo and Brad are iconic. Leonardo DiCaprio, playing the lead Rick Dalton, in his first role since winning his Oscar no less, reminds us why he is one of the greatest living actors today. And his dynamic with the equally rich Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is palpable and (somewhat frustratingly) worth the cost of admission. Both Dalton and Booth are incredibly fleshed out and have a great relationship with each other and everyone around them as the events of the film drive them apart and bring them back together. And the nostalgic odes to classic Hollywood are intoxicating. How many directors would be able to revert the actual Sunset Blvd to its 1969 state? The attention-to-detail is incredible. Just give them the Oscar for Best Production Design right now. These tracking shots are so cool. And the music is so good. Tarantino's taste in music is impeccable once again.
This film is so polarizing! It's propped up squarely by its two iconic leads, while leaving its female star in the dust. The male gaze is so infuriating. Its director does everything he can to ruin the experience. And its ending ... is something. I wasn't a huge fan of the moment where Tarantino finally went full Tarantino at the hands of an acid-dipped cigarette. Your mileage will vary with this ending, but I will put it squarely in my rearview. As I will the rest of this film. Why oh why did we have to waste this iconic duo on Tarantino? Can we get a do-over, please? Hey, Damien Chazelle, you watching this?
My Number: 4/10