Accepting Someone Else’s Maturity
Whether you call it “intellectual curiosity” or “obsessing over things that absolutely nobody has time for,” I spend a lot of my life seeking out things to read. Over the weekend, I found myself relaxing over breakfast with an article reviewing the jams that Phish played on their 2019 summer tour. The writer’s point was essentially that the band is better than it’s ever been, but less enjoyable than it used to be. He credits this to them becoming more musically proficient as they age, but replacing their youthful energy and risk taking with nuance and texture. It makes for music that’s more complex, but less danceable. I don’t listen to enough of them to confirm or deny this, but it certainly makes sense. And it reminded me a lot of the new Quentin Tarantino movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
I can’t remember a movie in my lifetime that generated more anticipation from me. Quentin Tarantino’s penultimate film, set in California in 1969, with a cast that most director’s only dream of. The ultimate cinephile was finally making a movie about movies themselves. I have no delusions about Tarantino being some kind of genius, but I appreciate the way he’s able to pull from obscure film genres to create entertaining movies that always feel fresh. And he takes so much time on each film that you can be certain that nothing he releases is ever bad. He’s not my favorite director, but I can’t think of anyone else who can say that.
I saw the movie on Friday night, and my expectations were sky high. I won’t spoil anything, but I found myself feeling a little bit underwhelmed. It wasn’t bad, it was just…mellow. When you’re expecting Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio to chase down Charles Manson in a violent whirlwind through Hollywood, it’s natural to be confused by what the movie actually is. Most of the film is a low-stakes character study, more focused on being a snapshot of a certain era than telling a Pulp Fiction-esque story.
I slept on it, and woke up Saturday appreciating it more than I did leaving the theater. I ended up seeing it again that night, and absolutely loved it. Looking at the film for what it is, I think it’s a triumph. It just feels like the work of a maturing artist. It may not be as fun to watch as Reservoir Dogs, but let’s be honest, few things are. Tarantino doesn’t have the electricity of a 30-year-old with something to prove anymore. But what he does have is a lifetime of filmmaking, and the hard-earned knowledge of what makes a film stick with you. His technique is improving with age, and it shows. It’s not the film I expected, and certainly not the film he would have made in a different decade, but looking at it in that context, it’s absolutely marvelous. If anyone else had made it, I’d have been singing its praises as soon as I left the theater on Friday.