“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”: beautiful but incoherent

Allie Feitzinger and Ria Pai

“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” grants viewers a snapshot of 1969 Hollywood, which, while enjoyable, feels only semi-coherent. Two hours and 15 minutes of exposition, with only the final 15 minutes resolving the film in true Tarantino glory, left us feeling unsatisfied and confused about the storyline. 

The film follows Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a Westerns star of fading relevance, and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they navigate Hollywood in 1969. The star-studded cast also features Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate and a myriad of recognizable names in ensemble roles.

Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt, right) talks to Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio, left) outside a bar in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” The film is nominated for a wide array of categories some of which are Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Production Design. Photo: Sony Pictures 

Dalton and Booth are inserted into a depiction of  Manson-era Hollywood, rewriting the narrative of Sharon Tate and notorious cult leader Charles Manson’s “family.” The movie explores an alternate scenario involving actor Sharon Tate, her husband Roman Polanski, and their famous friends. Dalton and Booth appear as fictional characters in this new scenario, altering the existing timeline: hence why it is called “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” Younger viewers should pull up Wikipedia while watching, as researching the stories behind the real people depicted on screen proves an intriguing (and necessary) endeavor. 

The cinematography and set design capitalize on the setting. Unique shots focus on an old projector playing a film, and snippets from old films, both real and contrived, create an authentic atmosphere. Costumed hippies and vintage cars line the streets of a younger Los Angeles.

The acting leaves little to be desired, which is unsurprising considering the names included in the project. DiCaprio and Pitt’s chemistry is palpable, and they fall into their roles with the prowess.

While Dalton and Booth prove a dynamic duo, their personalities and means starkly juxtaposing one another, the additional characters lack development. The film misses the opportunity to delve deeper into Sharon Tate’s background, who was an actual Hollywood star of the 60’s, and allows Robbie’s character to fall flat.

Though all of this lends itself to an enjoyable film, the final product feels confusing and difficult to follow. Dalton and Booth’s stories failed to align sufficiently with that of Tate and her household. Certain interactions between the characters and clips seemed unnecessary and overly drawn out. The film had so much potential with some of the most prominent actors and directors in Hollywood, but the storyline falls short. 

While a fun experience, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” does not provide a satisfying narrative, and, ultimately, should not take home Best Picture. However, the quality of the acting, costumes and sets somewhat redeem the movie, and deserve their nominations. The film is nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design and Best Sound Editing.

“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”

Drama / Comedy-drama

2 hours 40 minutes

Rated R

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie