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.

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Fine Wine & Bashed Bananas

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I wonder if cellulite just above the knees will ever become fashionable; if that protruding single black hair donning my chin will ever be considered a “statement” feature; if someday people will say “oh, look how split her ends are.” Unfortunately, until that day comes I will remain distinctly out of fashion and just a bit gross. There was a brief spell there when the sumo bun passed as borderline trendy – that worked in my favour. But since then things have evolved to elaborate plaits and pastel shades and not only am I now very obviously lazy when it comes to my hair, I am also incredibly passé.

Have I always been like this? I don’t think so. There’s a girl I vaguely recognise in pictures with platinum blonde hair, a sun-kissed glow and skinny arms (thank you Facebook for those impromptu updates reminding me of when I once could have passed for attractive). She bears a slight resemblance to that woman I see in the mirror today, minus the wrinkles, an extra half a chin and, ironically, acne.  Some of us, the Leonardo DiCaprios of the world, age like a fine wine and others, unfortunately, like a banana that’s been bashed about your handbag for half a day. I fear it is the latter category in which I fall.

Those pictures – like most that appear in our newsfeeds – are, however, not an accurate reflection. They should also come with tags. i.e. it took one hour to achieve that perfectly carefree curl and 50 quid at the hairdressers to create that blondes-have-more-fun colour. That “sun-kissed glow” that you see required hours of sweat-filled sunbedding and the application of a brown gunk that would drip off at the mere sight of water. Those skinny arms? Well that was just good old underappreciated metabolism. In sum, a lot of time and money went into looking like this. Time and money which I no longer have and even if I did, I seriously doubt would be spent like this.

Just as I don’t now, I had no appreciation for how I looked back then either. It’s like those over cited lyrics from that Wear Sunscreen song:

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.

My 40-year-old self will probably look back at her late 20s Doppelgänger and express the exact same sentiment that I am now narrating: “Why didn’t I appreciate how fabulous I really looked?” It all just seems a bit fruitless.

I could conveniently blame motherhood for letting myself go. No doubt, it has been a contributing factor.  But the fact is, if I can find the time to eat half a multi-pack of crisps, I could probably take some time to pluck that stray black hair. It just seems to be something I have out grown (not the hair; it will outlive me). Case in point: my 5-year-old goddaughter recently asked her mother and my oldest friend “Why does Rebekah wear tracksuit bottoms all the time?” “Because they’re comfortable little Naoíse”. And that’s simply where I’m at at this point of my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I have my moments of weakness, when those perfect eyebrows or face-contouring tutorials catch me off guard. They make me want to want to be better. I just don’t have the room for sculpting in my life right now.

To give a really, really bad analogy. You know when you make a meal with something that’s out of date? You can manage to bluff it with other ingredients and just about get by. That’s what I’m a bit like. I’ve passed my best-before date and I’m just winging it. I have every intention of some day going shopping again, starting afresh and making a much more pleasant version of myself. But until then, I will continue to slick back my hair into my trademark bun, dab concealer on those particularly unforgiving blemishes and rock my tracksuit bottoms until they start gathering fluff.  It may not be pretty but, as I told my goddaughter, “it’s comfortable”.  And while Leo continues to age like a fine wine, I’ll just settle for drinking it.