Unpardonably unsexy, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is like sex without a climax. Oh, there is a climax, a blunt, bloody brutal typically-Tarantino climax where heads are pounded on heavy metal as the same plays in the background. But it’s all done in a manner so brazenly pointless and obdurately cheerless you wonder if this lengthy rambling exercise in self-gratification is meant to be some kind of an inside joke on Hollywood’s heaving hedonism in the 1960s.
If it is (an inside joke) then sorry, I didn’t get. Among all his savagely satirical war epics—and let’s face it, Tarantino’s cinema is always about bloodied borderline psychotic conflicts—this one takes the cake. The cheese cake. Some of the sequences meant to show the casually hip and untamed beau monde in Beverly Hills, are so campy they could easily be a part of an Austin Powers omnibus. Except that Powers is meant to be parodic.
Tarantino is dead serious about ‘exposing’ the world that the hedonistic geniuses of Hollywood inhabited way back when Sharon Tate went out on a date with filmmaker Roman Polanski and never returned. Sharon Tate, for the record, is played with juiced-up provocativeness by the gorgeous Margot Robbie. But her part, like much else in this rambling treatise to Tarantino’s brand of burlesqued bacchanalia, is underdeveloped scrambled and raw in a yucky kind of distasteful way.
The women in this soggy orgy are all caricatures, at least more so than the men who are equally broad-stroked by a script that revels in overstatement. With women called ‘Squeaky’ and ‘Pussy’(yes, you heard right, there’s a Pussy in the puddle pudding of a plot) we can only expect caricatural women. Pussy is played by Margaret Qualley. She keeps giving Brad Pitt unambiguously inviting looks. Finally, when he gives her a lift, she offers to do things to him that could be lethal while driving. Suck on that.
Where is all this leading up to? You may well ask. I have no clue what this film is meant to say or do. Large chunks of the Size XXL narration is rambling and repetitive. There are two lengthy sequences where Brad Pitt is shown preparing his faithful dog’s meal and feeding her.
Elsewhere he is shown driving for long stretches listening to his favourite music.
We copy. Brad’s Cliff Booth is a free spirit, as opposed to his friend partner and employee Rick Dalton, a star on the skids played with spirited effrontery by Leonardo DiCaprio. At the film’s core (not that Tarantino cares for you to find it, but if you insist) is the Brad-DiCaprio friendship kinship. I suspect the film was plotted around the superstars. And though they are both in fine form, their conversations sound like messages at the back of cereal boxes being read out loud.
There is no chemistry between Pitt and DiCaprio, and not their fault. And the best performance comes from a child actor Julia Butters who, in the film’s best (though again overlong) sequence gives acting lessons to DiCaprio.
This is a soul-less aimless pointless work of unanchored brutality fed and fuelled by the vanity of a director whose arrogant self-worth is evident in every frame. Why else would Bruce Lee be so mercilessly ridiculed in a sequence that has no relevance to anything?
What harm did Bruce do to Tarantino to deserve this treatment? What have we done to deserve this?