“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” A Review by Sawyer Wood

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“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a story that could be heartwarming if there wasn’t always a punchline. The plot of the movie revolves around the aging actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to keep their careers afloat amid Italian westerns, ‘rumors’ of murder, fears of failing, and the presence of the dangerous Manson family. Their success in this endeavor is questionable at best, keeping in mind Rick’s career hinged almost entirely on bad “spaghetti” westerns and the duo’s eventual off-camera split, but it’s not for lack of opportunity.

Rick & Cliff

In fact, Rick and Cliff have had a swath of chances to turn their luck around, with practically every character of the film cutting them a break they honestly don’t deserve. Everything from Rick’s irresponsible drinking behavior and various DUIs to Cliff’s rumored murdering of his wife is ultimately seen as excusable. Nobody questions their moral character, their ability to work, or their ability to represent a film properly. Instead, as long as someone is there to vouch for them or remind others that they have been a “Bounty Law” star or a war hero, they are absolved of all personal responsibility. They might be viewed with suspicion, but it always inevitably falls away, constantly allowing Rick more chances to prove himself (and get a best friend/personal chauffeur) and allowing Cliff to get the job despite the female intuition that immediately identifies him as a danger.  If that sounds familiar, it should. In a society largely run by men, we aren’t strangers to giving men the benefit of the doubt or excusing clearly unacceptable behavior. We desperately want to believe in the idea of the “nice guy” who just has some rough edges, and Tarantino’s film plays directly into this.

Sharon Tate

Perhaps even more than our attitudes about men, our attitudes about women are front and center in this movie. Or rather, they’re not – which is the problem! Women are largely absent from the nostalgia piece, largely existing to fill in the background or move the plot forward. Most importantly, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) plays a shockingly small part in a story intended to take on the Manson family murders. In a bold choice, the focus of the real-life story has been moved from Sharon onto the male leads of the movie, and it feels insulting and tone-deaf in a world that already elevates male voices over female. Sharon Tate isn’t allowed her story, nor is she given the chance to become a survivor rather than a victim. Instead, she is shown as innocent, pure, and insignificant while Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth get to become the heroes of the story.  Rather than present a story of empowerment, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” turns the Sharon Tate murder into a flimsy fairytale that celebrates our current sexism rather than condemning it. If the meandering, three-hour flick teaches us anything, it is simply that we need to be better.

Read about Sharon Tate’s House: Then & Now on I On The Scene: HERE.

About Sawyer Wood

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