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.