Great Hair, Better Movie: Why Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gelled With Me

When a Tarantino movie hits the big screen, it becomes kind of a big deal. It’s not just a case of ‘sure, we’ll find a stream for it at the weekend’; we mean business now. No shoddy camera work, no off-beat audio, no painful hanging-around-as-you-watch-your-husband-try-to-find-a-decent-link caper; this warrants a babysitter and a mid-week trip to the cinema.

As a now sort of rite of passage, I go with my sister and husband; although honestly I’m thinking of upgrading given their disappointment at our latest two flicks which, in my opinion, have been absolute gems. The problem, however, with going to see a movie on this scale is that the experience is almost tainted from the outset. Given the wide circulation of promo material and critic reviews, I watched in anticipation for a number of details that had I not been exposed to beforehand would undoubtedly never have occurred to me.

I studied Bruce Lee’s character for the brief time he was onscreen and queried his reportedly unfair portrayal; I felt I was counting the lines, or rumoured lack thereof, of Margot Robbie; I pondered over the apparent idolisation of the now infamous director Roman Polanski. And while I can confirm that Bruce Lee did come off as less than likeable, a sore point I’m sure for his family, I cannot join in on any #metoo sentiments over the latter critiques. To me, Polanski’s role felt minimal and I struggle to conceive how a historical and fictional idolisation of a man who was highly regarded at that time could be harmful. Similarly, I don’t view Margot’s ‘diaglogue-light’ role as either minimal or as a consequence of her female status. I believed her presence to be powerful and felt throughout.

This idea of gender bias has widely come into speculation given Tarantino’s supposed negative portrayal of female characters in this movie. Yes, most of the women seem to play the part of ‘psychotic creepy hippie’ but we meet our fair share of their equally unnerving male counterparts. Plus, that one role of the little girl who plays the extra is enough to restore any sense of imbalance in gender equality.

At the heart of the movie is, of course, the fairytale of Hollywood. The perceived glamour offset against the angst of those lucky enough to inhabit it. The vulnerability of Leonardo’s character – the movies centre piece – shines through as he battles anxiety over the future of his career. Though as we watch heartthrobs Brad, Kurt, Luke (RIP) (and their ridiculously great hair) continue to charm their audience, we can dispel any myth that Hollywood dislikes an ageing gent. Whether we can say the same for their female counterparts is another question – one which I am not prepared to answer.

The Hollywood dream of condos and pool parties is cleverly juxtaposed throughout with images of trailers and hairy pits. It’s the Hollywood Hills meets The Hills Have Eyes. This obvious contrast offers other subtleties, none more powerful than the idea of good versus evil. Touched upon in the movie, the idea that movies create monsters, endorsing and subsequently creating violence, is proffered as a justification by one of the assailants. In contrast to their heinous acts stands Tate’s character, offering only gentle words and smiles throughout. Her innocence, perfectly portrayed as she giggles watching herself on the big screen and offers lifts to hitchhikers, make her fate all the more heart-wrenching. This fate, which I admit kept me at the edge of my seat for over two and a half hours, was thankfully avoided in the film. While disappointing many in it’s inaccuracy, this alternative ending offered (at least, to me) a refreshing sense of justice which cannot ever be achieved or replicated outside of this creative realm.

For someone alien to Westerns and generally oblivious to Hollywood’s Golden Age, I found the piece to be completely compelling. I was lost in the by-gone era and happily so for 159 minutes, despite the fact that I prefer shorter films. And while my sister kept saying “but nothing’s happening”, it was in this that I found its appeal. There was no sense of urgency, only a story unfolding in the rare way that you don’t mind not knowing the ending.

In an era of seemingly endless animated Disney movies being remade using live action, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was able to offer a rare sense of charm and whimsy in spite of its dark roots and, although completely inaccurate in its depiction of events, gave us the fairytale ending every Once Upon a Time deserves.

What Straight A’s Mean Thirteen years later: Not Much

Nero was the last Roman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty; the Boston Matrix analyses a business’ product portfolio; the wife of Bath was married at the age of 12; and it was on the road to Damascus that Saint Paul underwent his spiritual conversion. A list of useless facts, yes, but also the few remnants of knowledge left from my A-Level studies in Ancient history, Business studies, English Literature and Religious Education respectively. This knowledge, hardly set to influence my future but rather my ability at that time to recall, apply and analyse such knowledge, would be pivotal to my future… Or would it?

Often seen as the defining point of our education, our A-Levels mark that we’ve finally reached adulthood and are now capable of making life-altering decisions: Will you continue your academic journey into university? Will you bow out for some time to travel the world? Will you opt for immediate employment and save yourself a lifetime of debt? While many at this time, on results day, will focus on what to do if you don’t get the grades you had hoped for, I wish to proffer some advice to those who do. This seems counterintuitive – like giving money to the rich. Their futures seem bright. They’ve been given the opportunity to put their best foot forward. It’s the less fortunate, the disappointed and broken-hearted who need words of encouragement. In some way though, this too ought to comfort. The bottom line is you can achieve the best grades possible and get nowhere near where you had hoped you might be. The opposite is equally true.

Thirteen years ago, after receiving my A-Level results, I made the decision to pursue a degree in Law. I had neither the interest nor the intent of pursuing a career in this field but given its perception as a “sensible choice” and its potential for broad application, it seemed like the right thing to do. My heart yearned for English literature, as it still does now, but alas the head triumphed. My head, of all the heads, rife with confusion and indecision.

As a result of this decision and many more to come, I now stand in a job which I can proudly say is important. It matters and I would like to think that, on some small level, I make a difference to the lives of the people I work with. But the selfish part of me, which I admit dominates any selflessness I might possess, longs for that “dream job”, should such a thing exist. A career that not only utilises your greatest skills but also fills that void; that void that says “you were born to do this” and gives that sense of purpose we all crave in life.

Before this sounds like a tale of woe, much like the poor old wife of Bath, I am in no way disillusioned. The decisions I have made, whether wrongly or rightly, have led me to a place which I not only can appreciate but where I can continue to better myself. It’s just not my place. My place exists somewhere beyond the here and now and I’m certain I’ll arrive there when the time is right.

So, what I would say to you on this seemingly fateful day, just as Roxette once tried to tell herself, is “listen to your heart” (unless of course your heart leads you to degrees like The Art of Walking or Puppetry). Ignore the voices that lead to the purely “sensible choice”. A sensible choice can soon become foolish if the outcome in no way reflects you or your goals. Your dream might not yet be clear but at least if you follow your heart, and ultimately what interests you, you’re bound to be at least one step closer than me.

And to those who feel like their dreams have been shattered by today, consider me – 31 and still dreaming. Those results are no more a reflection of your ability or future than my law degree is a reflection of me. Time is still on your side.

…Or we could just pack it in altogether and go to Australia. It’s what all the cool kids are doing anyway.