There are lots of individually funny scenes, but the movie doesn’t add up to much; some people will be more bothered by lack of plot than others. The Sharon Tate figure is peripheral and it’s really a male buddy friendship movie, plus a love letter to old Los Angeles—before Prop 13 screwed up the city and traffic made it almost unlivable.* I saw Once Upon a Time in 70mm, but I think the projector was screwed up—perhaps out of proper focus—because the movie rarely looked right and there was too much judder. The old days were not better, at least when it comes to image quality, and it’s still surprisingly hard to beat Arri Alexas‘s image quality.
I didn’t realize until later than I should have how much the movie itself is a fantasy, perhaps Rick’s fantasy or perhaps Cliff’s. What seems to be peripheral to a given frame may be more important than what’s seemingly central. Despite some carping in the first paragraph, I laughed more than not, though about 40 minutes before the end, I was wondering where the end is. I think writers have learned things about storytelling over the last 50 years, and digital editing systems make it much easier to simply have as many cuts as are needed to assemble the best movie or TV show possible.
The more Rick and Cliff are together in scenes, the better the movie is. But the movie also wanders; there’s a comparison to be made with The Nice Guys, another movie set in a similar time period and another movie in love with LA—but The Nice Guys has a plot.
Most of the reviews have been okay, but this one is better. I think Cliff represents Hollywood’s underlying humanity and Rick, Hollywood’s underlying cruelty.
* Is car-free L.A. plausible now, though? The regional connector should be done in 2022, a Purple Line extension should be done in 2023, and the Crenshaw/LAX Line should be done in 2020. Electric vehicles should also make L.A. more livable, by reducing smog and pollution. To be sure, L.A. today is better than L.A. in 1970, but “better” is far from “optimal.”