This review was originally published during the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.
It's difficult -- impossible, really -- to talk about what makes Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood so good without talking about what happens in it. That's exactly what Quentin Tarantino, in a special letter to Cannes attendees back in May, pleaded for critics not to do, and it's true that the most rewarding way to watch his newest movie is go into it knowing next to nothing. Its promotional material has done a good job of keeping things mysterious, especially at hiding the fact that, underneath all the traditional hyper-stylized Tarantino trappings, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood might be his sweetest, most empathetic film.
It's the final days of Hollywood's Golden Age in 1969, and aged actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (an extra-square jawed Brad Pitt) are struggling to find work within a rapidly evolving industry. Rick eschews the up-and-coming spaghetti western industry blossoming across the Atlantic, instead opting for bit parts in TV shows where he's stuck playing one-off villains. Over the years, Cliff has evolved from his stunt double, to his stunt double and his driver, to his stunt double and his driver and his very good friend. The two travel together, drink together, visit sets together, and sometimes kick back and watch TV together.
Also, Rick also happens to be Roman Polanski's next door neighbor, which is where the B-story comes in, and follows Polanski's wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), then a rising star in Hollywood nothing but hopeful about where her career will take her. There's a ton of archival footage in this movie (and lots of footage of DiCaprio made to look archival), and one extended sequence sees Tate sit down in a theater to watch one of her own pictures, smiling ear to ear as the crowd cheers for her character.