I'll address this first and foremost, as it'll (hopefully) give readers a bit more insight as to why I ultimately chose to give this film the score that I gave it. To no one's surprise, I love film. Not only the act of watching movies themselves, but also how history often portrays it to be rich, storied, and idealized. And I love Los Angeles. I don't mean that in any form of satire. The sun-kissed city, the observatory views, the film industry, West Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard—I am powerless to anything that it throws at me.
("If you love LA so much, why didn't you move there instead of New York City?" Another story for another time, I'm afraid.)
Anywho, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.
It's not really about anything. And sure, by its conclusion, it'll be easier to piece together the puzzle of how the film's entire body of work intertwines, but it mostly feels anecdotal and happenstance at best. Whether or not you're okay with, or enjoy, those anecdotes will likely determine your overall and lasting impression on Tarantino's 9th film.
Let's backtrack just a tiny bit.
Once Upon a Time In Hollywood stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, the former, an actor coming to terms with being out of place in the late 1960's Hollywood, and the latter, his stunt double. Very loosely speaking, the film jumps around to various iconic and nostalgia-inducing set pieces—all of which are gorgeously and painstakingly attune with that of the fabled era of Los Angeles. Tarantino's love for film has never been more evident than it is here, which may play towards its detriment or success, depending on where you side.
On one hand, it can certainly come off as a rich guy casting all of his rich friends to play versions of past rich people in a very rich locale. On the other, it can feel like an ode to old Hollywood. A changing of the guard that transitions an era of TV westerns to that of lavish, big-budget filmography. A look into the past with rose-tinted glasses and a heart full of nostalgia. A longing for the days of being in your prime, yet coming to terms with losing a step or two as time goes on.
These latter feelings are painfully evident in the numerous scenes that involve some form of reliving past achievements, or flashbacks, or placing scenes out of order. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's strongest emotion is easily that of nostalgia, and if that's a compelling enough draw for you, then it'll be an easy ride to the finish line. If not, it can feel like the first 85% of the film is just witty banter and conversation for the sake of 'they can'.
Unlike many of Tarantino's past work, the film doesn't necessarily feel like it has a strong plot thread that inherently compels audiences to see it through. If you're wanting a straightforward film that specifically aims for concise finale whose set pieces exist solely to allude to said ending, then there's a likely chance that you won't enjoy yourself. Most all of the events that take place come off as inconsequential, nonessential and, again, anecdotal. Things often feel like they just happen, without any sort of purpose or reason—somewhat like that of slice-of-life storytelling.
And that's basically the gist of it.
(Wait, what about acting performances, music, sound/costume design, etc.?)
Well, I would stress these things, but honestly they don't matter too much depending on your preference for (or against) this style of storytelling. If you like it, then you'll probably sink your teeth into the accuracy of the locales, the references to real-life personas, and the actors' performances. If not, then you'll probably be bored by all of the drawn out driving sequences, and long spouts of dialogue.
(Here's where the score comes into play, as well as my biases.)
I, unequivocally, adored this film. I found the characters compelling to the point where I'd be fine with watching them do anything (which is basically what happens). I found myself so drenched in adoration that I never once felt concerned with 'how are they going to wrap this up?' A neat and tidy conclusion felt more like a cherry on top, rather than the entire purpose of the adventure. That's not to say that the film is an easy watch, per se. It's got moments of self-deprecating comedic gold, as well as some of the longest sequences of nervous laughter I've ever felt at the movies. It has its fair share of feel-good moments, lowly lows, and everything in between, but they rarely come off as inducing a visceral reaction 'just because'.
Once Upon a Time In Hollywood won't be for everyone. Heck, it won't even be for the most die-hard Quentin Tarantino fans.
But it felt like it was for me, and since it is my review, and my personal experience at the movies, I couldn't be happier.
1-2: Horrendous, wouldn’t recommend watching even if free of charge.
3-4: Potentially has some good ideas, but overall still lackluster.
5-6: Average, a decently good time; go see it if it's free.
7-8: A solid recommendation, and well-rounded film; warrants a purchase after home release.
9: No glaring flaws; deserves to be watched multiple times.
10: Masterful, must-see; filmmaking at its finest.