First Thoughts on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Written by Katie Shanahan

This past weekend, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the long anticipated ninth film by director Quentin Tarantino, premiered across the US. Upon leaving the theater opening night (which was much more packed than I anticipated for a Thursday evening) I remarked to my friend that though the film was entertaining, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed.

Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures

Once Upon a Time is unmistakably Tarantino. In many ways it seems like the film he was always meant to make, being an unapologetic love letter to Spaghetti Westerns and the Los Angeles of his youth. However, it lacks the spirit and liveliness that define many of his previous works. It almost feels as if a robot read all his scripts and then produced this one.

Most of his films clock in around three hours, but to me this is the only one that truly feels like it. The pacing was sluggish, which shocked me because I’ve always thought this was one of the director’s strong suits. I would have gladly traded some of the many long scenes of Rick and Cliff on set for ones that showed us some of the duo’s time in Italy or fleshed out Sharon’s character more.

Though Quentin’s affinity for historical revisionism spared her life, the lack of characterization of Sharon Tate made the film feel exploitative of her legacy nonetheless. Tarantino had the opportunity to truly humanize Tate, who has become a sort of mystical figure in the modern-day folklore of the Manson Family killings, but instead chose to portray her as vapid and one dimensional. When I first heard Margot Robbie would star as Tate I was very excited to see her performance, but the script did not allow her to fully showcase her talents.

And the feet—SO MANY FEET—I know every Tarantino film has these self-indulgent sole shots but the ones in Once Upon A Time seemed so much worse to me. I’m 100% sure he knows his fetish has become a meme now and is just sitting there laughing at our collective discomfort. The image of Margaret Qualley’s toes pressed against a windshield is burned into my mind. And did Robbie’s feet resting on the seat in the theater look dirty to anyone else or was it just the dark lighting? Either way, gross.

Don’t get me wrong, the film was wildly entertaining. Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance was one of the best of the year and I loved watching him and Brad Pitt (whose Big Himbo Energy™ really shone through in this role) bro around. The violence was as over the top and fantastic as always and the aesthetic and shots were as beautiful as we’ve come to expect from Tarantino. However, despite these strengths it just feels like it had the opportunity to be so much more than it turned out to be. The reception of the film so far by fans and critics alike has been very mixed and I’ll be very surprised if that changes. I fully expect Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to go down as the most divisive entry in Tarantino’s filmography.

Katie Shanahan