I went to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood this weekend. It’s Tarantino’s ninth film, possibly his penultimate movie, if we are to believe his own remarks from last year. How does a feminist view a two-and-a-half-hour, almost all male violence-fest?
I’m generally drawn to the glamour of 60s California (think Joan Didion, second wave feminism (Gloria Steinem), Janis Joplin, faded pastels), including the strange allure of the Manson -story. Once Upon… is all about that. It’s an ode to the bygone golden age of hippies. However close the movie touches the Manson- saga, it is not about them. Possibly a conscious decision by Tarantino to not glorify the murders.
It’s a very old skool -movie about the Hollywood dream factory, with Leonardo DiCaprio as the fading film star and Brad Pitt as his equally fading stunt-double. Both are still very captivating on the big screen, as well as very good actors. It felt very comforting to see that Pitt is showing signs of ageing, despite the ridiculously photoshopped posters of the film.
Once Upon… is a film set in the 60s and it is about two men, so the women in the story are mainly statistics, Playboy bunnies or background dancers. The late Sharon Tate is played by Margot Robbie and while she’s very convincing in her role, the character was left very superficial in the film. Several other female characters are named as well – not always a given. The biggest feminist who gets to speak in the film is a 10-year old girl who plays in a movie together with DiCaprio’s character. So don’t go see the film planning to fill in your Bechdel-test cheat sheet.
Violence. It’s Tarantino, darling. Violence is inevitable. Both men and women will end up getting the shit beaten out of them. While it’s never particularly pleasant to watch, Tarantino has the knack to go so massively overboard and exaggerate to the point of slapstick, that the scenes are sort of macabrely entertaining (I would give more elaborate examples of the funniness, but don’t want to spoil the plot).
In the age of insanely expensive and lengthy small screen productions, big screen film directors probably have to pull at all stops to create added value and lure people to movie theatres. Once Upon… does not disappoint. Every whack!, Pow! and Slap! has been sound-enhanced to the point that you can literally hear the celery being lifted from the Bloody Mary.
There’s not much of a morale of a story in this film, but it was a very enjoyable, cinematic treat, with every detail minutely crafted and though-out, including the colours that were faded just so. Perfect August entertainment.
I also went to see The Late Night, a film starring Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, about a middle aged female talk show host in Hollywood, whose show is cancelled because well, she’s a middle aged woman in Hollywood. If Once Upon… was not woke, the Late Night is a lexicon of #metoo and #timesup. The film starts off quite well and fresh and fast-paced, but then somewhere in the middle starts churning out a cliche after another.
Of course Thompson is bloody fabulous and does a very convincing job, and Kaling is not bad, either. Late Night is kind of a delightful snack compared to the sensory feast of Once Upon… I would recommend it for anyone who enjoys light comedies – and this one is particularly rare because it has an actual middle-aged woman as the lead.