Food: The Garret is a bar in the West Village that rests somewhat secretly atop Five Guys, with brick walls and a corner two-story view. It has a rock n’ roll theme and the bartender was dressed as Billy Idol (on purpose?). To enter, you have to go inside the burger spot and find the stairs. Once inside, it’s a cozy little spot with lounge seats and great cocktails. The best part? You can get burgers to eat upstairs. I got a classic Spanish drink called a Caipirinha and a cheeseburger.
Film: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood has quite literally been on my radar for at least two years when rumors started to circulate that Tarantino was doing a Manson murders movie. It wasn’t overly surprising that he would be making a film about a particularly violent occasion, but no one could have imagined that it would be one his most affectionate movies yet.
The film centers on Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a handsome washed up movie actor who is coming to terms with the possibility that he is past his prime, and his best friend and stuntman, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Their friendship is described by an off-screen narrator as “more than a brother and a little less than a wife.” Much of the beginning of the film is the two of them cruising around 1960’s Hollywood together (Dalton lost his license and Cliff drives him everywhere he needs to be).
Dalton has a meeting with an executive played by Al Pacino, who unrelentingly points out that all of his roles have been to highlight some younger, better guy and offers him work in Italy where he can be the leading man again. DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton with a bit of a stutter and a propensity for crying when he is ever slightly overwhelmed with emotion. There is humor and sweetness in this character who is coming to terms with his aging and holding onto his career in this difficult industry. Booth, on the other hand, is a well-adjusted simple man. He doesn’t need the fame and fortune to be pleased with his time in the industry. He drives outside of Hollywood to go home to a sweet dog, Brandy, and eats boxed mac n’ cheese in front of the TV in his humble trailer to unwind.
Much of these moments are juxtaposed with Rick Dalton’s neighbor, the famed director, Roman Polanski and his young starlet wife, Sharon Tate. Dalton notes at one point, “I’m just one pool party away from being in the next Polanski film.” We as an audience are planted where Dalton is – just on the outskirts of their experiences. We spend a day running errands with Tate (played delightfully by Margot Robbie). We see a young woman on the precipice of her career. Sheepishly, she wanders into a movie theater that’s playing her film, and giddily smiles at the laughter of other theater goers watching her comedic moments. Sharon Tate was a person, and her fame came from her tragedy. Tarantino focuses on her while she was alive. He humanizes her, while also using her bright presence as a symbol of Hollywood during a time that was halted in 1969, a time that has been met with nostalgia ever since.
The film is quietly propelled by the anticipation of what we know happened in August of that year. Cliff Booth, while driving one day, encounters a young hippie who goes by the name Pussycat (Margaret Qualley – who stuns effortlessly in this breakout role). She is magnetic as a naive and reckless hippie who lives on an old movie ranch – which audiences recognize as Charles Manson’s commune. Without being obvious, these scenes leave the viewers cringing, knowing that there is more to this bandwagon of bohos than meets the eye.
While this movie is accessible for wide audiences, including younger crowds, it has Easter egg references for those who recognize this period of time and history. It has been said that Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a love letter to Hollywood and film and it feels true and sincere. Tarantino gets to have fun here, cracking the door open to what it is like behind the scenes on a set, or interspersing fun clips to illustrate Dalton’s filmography, or including young versions of icons Bruce Lee or Steve McQueen.
Further, even though, this film is more sentimental than many of his others, but it is also hilarious. With well-written characters, and especially with Tarantino’s dexterity with creating dialogue, there are so many quotable one-liners and comedic moments.
Ultimately, when this movie ends, the audience is left feeling the perfect amount of satisfaction. A major part of the horror of the Manson murders was the pure senselessness of them. It could have been anyone’s house. It could have gone differently had it, in fact, been someone else’s house. What would have happened if it had gone differently? Would that decade have been characterized the same way? Would the whimsy have eventually been stunted by something else? The soft spellbinding final moments of the movie felt eerie and hypnotic, and it was perfect.