Hollywood – Netflix – Review
by Fran Winston
Starring: David Corenswet, Darren Criss, Laura Harrier, Joe Mantello, Dylan McDermott, Jake Picking, Jeremy Pope, Holland Taylor, Samara Weaving, Jim Parsons, Patti LuPone
Streaming now on Netflix
From the imagination of Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, this features a stellar cast telling the story of moviemaking in Hollywood post-WWII when the “golden age” was in its infancy. It’s just not telling the stories you know. With predominately fictional characters this also reimagines the stories of some much loved real-life stars.
Following an aspiring screenwriter, director and several actors as they come together to make a controversial film called Meg, featuring a black actress in the lead role, this rewrites a lot of Hollywood history. Murphy and co are trying to address many, many issues so there are plot threads about racial discrimination, same-sex relationships, sexism, sexual harassment… in fact, the only thing that they don’t seem to be trying to highlight is trans issues. This results in everything becoming highly diluted even though the story stretches out over seven episodes. Also, despite the 1940’s setting, they use contemporary language rather than the more offensive language of the era (which was a huge source of complaint from the targeted groups during that period and therefore deserves its place in any analysis of discrimination as it is historically correct) which again, dilutes many scenes.
Also, the fictional versions of real-life characters are in danger of colouring the real history of these legendary people. Acclaimed Chinese American movie star Anna Mae Wong has her later career history rewritten. And the first-ever person of colour to win an Oscar, Hattie McDaniel, appears to be included merely offer exposition as to the history of people of colour in motion pictures (which was not necessarily her own history – McDaniel actually refused to protest against the treatment of people of colour in movies). The version of Rock Hudson portrayed here makes him appear completely gormless and also sees him in a biracial relationship, which would have been as unthinkable as his real-life homosexual relationships during this era.
One character who gets renamed and sidelined here is Dylan McDermott’s character Ernie West. He is actually based on a popular and legendary real-life Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers who has an incredibly interesting story and his biography would make great viewing.
That said there are some fantastic performances. Jim Parsons is ridiculously sleazy as a fictional version of talent agent Henry Willson, a million miles from his best know role in the Big Bang Theory. Holland Taylor is brilliant as a studio mentor for actors at the fictional Ace Studios. And Mira Sorvino has a wonderful recurring role as a successful actress who is also the mistress of the studio head. However, some roles are just poorly thought out. In particular, Katie McGuinness as a fictional Vivien Leigh plays it almost like a parody.
This looks fabulously glamorous and gorgeous throughout. It is incredibly stylish but quickly runs out of substance. The story is far too convoluted, which is a shame given how many shocking and screen worthy true Hollywood stories there are. It does a good job of highlighting the power plays and manipulation that came to light after many people had died. But it loses its way when discussing other issues. Much like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it tries to rewrite and reimagine history. However, unlike that, it takes on far too much rather than focusing on one well-known story.
A rare occasion where Murphy has dropped the ball this has its flaws but given the current CoVid lockdown it will pass a few hours pleasantly enough. It is not the kind of binge watch that sucks you in until your eyes hang out of your head from watching! It’s like the fast-food of binge-watching. Looks great, has you craving it but leaves you deeply unsatisfied.
So glad you put in words what I had been thinking! I stand by that if the show had been advertised as a revisionist history from the beginning, there would have been a lot stronger storytelling and viewers would be more willing to accept the changes. Now it feels a little sloppy and a lot sleazy. Thanks for writing!
Thanks for the kind words!