Review: “Hollywood” gives film history a sudden rewrite


At the Golden Tip gas station, somewhere in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, they pump more than gas. Get in the car, say to the handsome attendant, “I want to go to Dreamland,” and it’s yours for a fee.

Everyone wants to go to Dreamland, right? That’s why people go to the movies and why they go to the movies. This is how Jack (David Corenswet), a war veteran who wants to be a movie star, finds himself at the Golden Tip in Netflix ” Hollywood, ”jostling to support his pregnant wife (Maude Apatow) while he continues his other jostling.

Jack is in trouble, unconnected and of questionable talent. However, he is one of the lucky ones: he is white, straight and gentle on the eyes. The seven golden episodes of “Hollywood”, arriving on Friday, feature a wide range of candidates – black, gay, female – in a vivid but unconvincing overall fantasy of who can go to Dreamland and who should keep dreaming.

He finds a taker in Raymond (Murphy’s regular Darren Criss), a young idealistic director who sees Archie’s screenplay as a potential career creator for his girlfriend, Camille (Laura Harrier). The problem: she is also black, staged in supporting roles as a comical maid and constantly harassed to read her lines like Hattie McDaniel. (McDaniel later shows up, played by Queen Latifah, and remembers waiting to pick up his “Gone With the Wind” Oscar in a separate hotel.)

A lead role is not in the stars for someone like Camille in Hollywood in the 1940s. This is how it was.

But “Hollywood” asks: What if it isn’t? The attempt to make Archie’s film begins as a flashy, funny, twisted-eyed dissection of bigotry and power. Then it turns, halfway, into a talk of encouragement about what some kids can do if they put their moxie together and put on a show.

The pleasures of “Hollywood” are in his eye for historical details and his vigorous and flourishing cosplay of the period. As Henry Willson – a real gay agent and a powerful player – Jim Parsons pays out cheerful beards like a sarcastic slot machine. Patti LuPone is a royal delight as the wife of a studio executive who hires Jack as a gigolo. (The story of Lana Turner’s discovery is not – although Schwab’s pharmacy is only a few steps away.)

It’s “Hollywood” in its most absorbent, nostalgic and caustic form. It serves burnished post-war glamor while resurfacing the stories and bodies sacrificed to maintain the homogeneous luster of the films – artists of color, closed frames, neglected women.

Then “Hollywood” takes a turn, which it seems to streamline, in a meta way, through discussions of Archie’s script. A studio director asks why make the audience fall in love with an actress to make her lose her dream and end it all? Don’t people deserve to leave the picture with a little hope?

So it’s in the series, which looks a bit like “Once upon a time … in Hollywood” by Quentin Tarantino, except that the wrong to correct is not the Manson murders but the generational massacre of careers and the silence of voice.

It is a noble thought and a bold premise. It doesn’t work here, not because of the fantasy – you’re allowed to take liberties in Dreamland – but because of the story and the tensions of the characters that “Hollywood” is visibly going through to make it come to an end.

The stories that start cynical suddenly become syrupy. The characters develop consciences and talents of which they had shown little evidence. The production takes on a forced sunny tone, as if the whole series had landed at Oz and the screen had gone from black and white to color. It’s supposed to be inspiring, but that only makes the viewer more aware of the contortions the series goes through to bind into a neat arc. (The last episode is called “A Hollywood Ending”.)

A character who maintains a certain measure of complexity is Henry jaded and hungry by Parsons, who gives a meta-criticism after having projected a cut of the film in a program: “There is something about the end that I do not buy just not. It’s a conscious and self-aware line, but in the end, “Hollywood” ignores that voice. He is determined to transport you to Dreamland, no matter how bumpy the ride.


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