Is ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’ Worth Two Hours?

“Above the Skies”. All rights © izayah ramos

Look. I’m sure it’s a perfectly fine flick. But a decoupage of a male-dominated industry with a swan song nostalgia isn’t jumping to the top of my list. Especially if Tarantino’s very first Weinstein-free film ever also sympathetically features Roman Polanski.

Who am I to pre-pan a movie I haven’t even seen? Like the brass-and-frosted glass faux riche of the early McMansion era, some things should just quietly go out of style. And there are so many great stories to be experienced — fresh stories, more important stories — movies, books, TV and podcasts that traverse new territory.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’s advertised components seem like yet another last gasp of interchangeable white men desperately trying to reassure themselves that they are inherently exceptional and eternally relevant — even as culture and art and demographics evolve away from their former normativity. Even as they sit around and do … not much, they are trying to position themselves as the last bastions of what’s best in all of us — strong, silent integrity and stiff drinks, unspoken feelings whose silence emotes more than words, long gazes and occasional fistfights — to protect what’s pure and good.

Romanticizing a bygone era isn’t always overwrought. Maybe this one won’t be. But it can be boring when it oversimplifies one more story that just doesn’t need to be told — it adds no value to our collective culture — just a few more polaroids in a shoebox under someone’s bed. And that old mattress is 1960s hetero white male Americana as perpetual torch-bearer, the brilliant artists, the tortured geniuses and the last stronghold. It’s an oversaturated genre.

Listen. I love hypermasculinity. I love good men. I love strength. And I even admire all of those things when they come together in a square jaw and a strong frame. I love ensemble casts with men. Most of my favorite movies are male-dominated productions with male-centered storylines that all bomb the Bechdel-Wallace test — Godfather and Godfather II, Departed, Legends of the Fall, A River Runs Through It, Stand By Me, Goonies, Super Troopers.

But every time Grindhouse fangirl Quentin Tarantino tries to depict the art of masculinity he glamorizes violence with wafting cartoon stink lines of insecurity and vanity — and never more hopeful than the absurd delusion that a woman like Salma Hayek wouldn’t notice a man like George Clooney because she’s so singularly focused on a man like Tarantino? And intent on him sucking tequila off her foot? There’s suspension of disbelief. And then there’s Tarantino fellating Salma Hayek’s toes.

I’m all for escapism and Lord knows I indulge my own with fiction, TV and movies. But call it what it is. Fantasy. Instead of scaffolding the frail ego of bros to perpetuate the delusion that average men are entitled to everything that exceptional men are — namely, danger, intrigue, beautiful women and the respect and admiration of other men. And that they are entitled to it until the day they die. They get to let their bodies age naturally but their appeal and importance never fade. At least he chose beautiful men this time.

At its most harmless this delusion is just milquetoast, pleated-front khakis and maybe a mortgage that’s beyond your means. But at its most insidious it’s 4chan and incels.

Tarantino isn’t responsible for the seething misogyny that endangers women in every culture. Although he did endanger Uma Thurman’s life — a woman who trusted him personally and professionally. But that’s another story. And he collaborated with Harvey Weinstein on literally every blessed last movie he ever made until Weinstein was legally unavailable.

Though his work is less formulaic than Seth Rogan’s bromances I don’t know if it’s worth two hours of my life.

But I’ve been wrong before. And I can understand the appeal. It’s much easier to live vicariously through fantasies on a flat-screen than earn them in real life.

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