movies

Look, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has a Margot Robbie problem.

Once upon a time there was a movie with such a cleverly crafted marketing strategy that the internet was flooded with hot takes about the film before anyone had actually laid eyes on it.

That film is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the new movie from the brilliant yet often problematic mind of Quentin Tarantino. The film focuses on Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fading actor who used to star in a hit TV Western series and is now struggling to find supporting roles in B-grade movies while falling into booze-filled moments of emotional angst over the way the world is passing him by.

The one constant in Rick’s life is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), a Vietnam War veteran who started off as Rick’s stunt double but is now mostly his driver, confidant and the person who keeps all the scattered pieces of his life (very loosely) together.

Oh, and he also potentially killed his wife, but the movie is not super keen to have you dwell on that.

On this episode of Mamamia’s daily entertainment podcast, The Spill hosts Laura Brodnik and Kee Reece give a spoiler-free review of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

One of the smartest elements of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was Tarantino’s decision to take DiCaprio and Pitt, arguably two of the world’s most charismatic and alluring movie stars that time has failed to slow down and reinvent them on screen as bumbling and unlikeable characters who the audience is encouraged to be entertained by but not actually root for.

There’s a moment in the film where DiCaprio’s Rick is positively child-like in his emotions as he tears up in a scene while playing ‘the big bad’ in new Western, a clever take on the way actor’s emotions can become stunted after so many years of having their value placed only on their power to play make-believe.

On the flip side of this is Pitt’s Cliff, a leering henchman of sorts who moves silently around the edges of the glittering world of Hollywood that employee him and is in possession of a violent streak that breaks free at inopportune moments, such as when he challenges Bruce Lee. Pitt’s best turn in the film comes after Cliff gets high off an acid-laced cigarette, allowing both Pitt and the character he’s playing to let all hell break loose.

Having Once Upon a Time in Hollywood framed as both a sensual love letter to Tinseltown and a cautionary tale about its evils told through the eyes of Rick and Cliff is a well-executed one, but it’s with the Margot Robbie factor of the film where things start to get mighty complicated.

Robbie is utterly beguiling in the role of Sharon Tate, who, unlike the fictional characters of Rick and Cliff, was actually a real person who walked the earth and whose backstory has been re-imagined in this gruesome yet glittering mega-budget film.

ADVERTISEMENT

And that’s exactly the problem.

Watch the trailer for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood here:

Sharon Tate was an actress who starred in movies Valley of the Dolls and The Fearless Vampire Killers but is most famously remembered for her tragic death. On August 9, 1969, an eight-months-pregnant Sharon Tate was murdered in her home by members of the Manson Family cult, along with four of her friends while her husband Roman Polanski was away on business.

In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the set up for Sharon’s story follows this same path. She’s still a glamorous Hollywood actress married to Polanski, but from there Tarantino re-imagines a whole new path for her.

The first baffling take away from Robbie’s role as Sharon Tate is why the Australian actress, who set up her own production company for the very purpose of being able to step away from the blonde bombshell roles Hollywood continues to thrust upon her, would take part in the project in the first place.

It’s not the project itself that is the real head-scratcher here, for her to take part in a guaranteed box office hit with an A-List cast and flashy costumes makes sense from a profile building and money-making perspective, the question is more the relevance of the role itself.

On one hand, it’s refreshing to see Sharon Tate be given the big-screen treatment in a way that doesn’t just paint her as a victim. It’s clear to see that Tarantino has used her to add a contrasting storyline of light and wonder that works against the darker storyline followed by the main male characters.

Sharon is weaved into Rick’s storyline by virtue of being his next-door neighbor, and the movie goes to great lengths to show her as an actress moving into her prime and still hopefully giddy with what Hollywood has to offer her. But then chooses to do little else besides profit off her famous name.

ADVERTISEMENT
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Margot Robbie
Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. Image: Sony Pictures.

At the end of the day, Margot's Tate is more of a distraction to the film than an asset, no matter how the actress and director tried to spin her interpretation on-screen.

When the movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, Tarantino famously lashed out at a New York Times journalist who asked why Margot's Sharon Tate had such a tiny amount of dialogue in the film. When Tarantino snubbed the question, Margot stepped in to answer, saying, "I think the moments that I got onscreen gave an opportunity to honor Sharon and her lightness. I don’t think it was intended to delve deeper.”

In the words of Sharon Tate's sister Debra Tate, who gave the movie her blessing but still said sadly to Vanity Fair, "I really wish that Quentin Tarantino would do the Sharon Tate story, and I would love to see Margot play that. But that was not the movie that Quentin had written."

Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood is a brilliant film but where it fails is in its attempt to use Margot Robbie bring new life to a murdered woman, while still not daring to give her a leading role.

Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood is now playing in cinemas Australia-wide. It is rated MA15+. 

For more stories like this, you can follow Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik on Facebook.  You can also visit our newsletter page and sign up to “TV and Movies”  for a backstage pass to the best movies, TV shows and celebrity interviews (see one of her newsletters here). 

Tags: entertainment-3 , movies , pop-culture , review
00:00 / ???