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‘Once Upon in Hollywood’ (review by Sharon Knolle)

Produced by David Heyman,
Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino
Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Narrated by Kurt Russell
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt,
Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch,
Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant,
Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern,
Al Pacino, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis
Mike Moh, Nicholas Hammond

 

Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film is a love letter to Hollywood in the ’60s and an homage to the late Sharon Tate, and his admiration for both comes through with each frame.

But dropping humorous fictitious characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt into one of the most horrific events in Hollywood history is like mixing oil and water.

Despite Tarantino’s insisting this isn’t a film about the Manson murders (and – spoiler – no, he doesn’t show that), it’s an explosive element that can’t be lightly touched on and then dismissed.

While Tarantino’s movie doesn’t exploit Tate’s murder, it does, ultimately, use it as the backdrop for cartoonish violence that is nearly as disrespectful as if he’d filmed the murders in loving detail.

Tate is glowingly portrayed by a radiant Margot Robbie, who goes happily about her charmed life, blithely unaware of any impending tragedy. This film will surely inspire more people to go watch her movies. In making us love Sharon Tate, Tarantino wholly succeeds.

While I enjoyed the teaming of DiCaprio and Pitt, who play, respectively, fading Western star Rick Dalton and stuntman pal Cliff Booth, I would much rather have seen a film where they never meet the cult or its victims.

I was reminded of the warning delivered to “scribbler” Joseph Cotten in The Third Man: “I’d say you were doing something pretty dangerous this time. Mixing fact and fiction. I’d say stick to fiction, straight fiction.”

And if you were worried that Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh) comes off like an arrogant jerk from the trailer, well, you were right. I don’t know if the late Lee went around challenging stuntmen to fights on movie sets, but this scene made me cringe.

So did the backstory for Pitt’s character, Cliff.

We instinctively like this wry character right away: His glory days are far behind him — as is the case for best friend/boss Rick — but his heyday, and his current status, is far humbler. And then we find out, in a jokey flashback, why he’s not popular on sets and it just adds to the overall queasiness.

There is a lot to enjoy here: The pairing of Pitt and DiCaprio, Rick’s emotional guest appearance on a younger star’s show, waiting to see where stars like Luke Perry and Bruce Dern show up. And, of course, the killer soundtrack and painstaking period detail.

In many ways, it’s a fun retro pop-culture pastiche: But when you try getting laughs over the Manson family, the fun and games are over for this viewer.

Your mileage may vary.

 

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