This story contains mild spoilers for Once Upon A Time In... Hollywood.
The best scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood involves Brad Pitt and dog food. Specifically, a can of sloppy, diarrhea-colored mush, flavored “Raccoon” or “Rat” or something equally disgusting — the kind of pungent mass-produced dog food that smells inedible. In the scene, Cliff Booth (Pitt) — an out-of-work, but still alarmingly buff stunt man — is drunk, high, and tripping off an acid-laced cigarette. He’s had approximately 40 margaritas with his former colleague, Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, to mourn their respective jobless futures. It’s the late 60s, and Westerns, along with a number of other Hollywood traditions, are going out of style. The two men are one-trick ponies in their respective roles: Rick as a villain, and Cliff as his stunt-double, and the future looks bleak. So, drugs and dog food it is.
The moment in question happens when Cliff is standing in Rick’s dimly-lit kitchen on Cielo Drive, right next door to Sharon Tate’s (Margot Robbie) home. Cliff brings the truly disgusting can to the mouth and licks the globby mush, the LSD tempting him to have a taste of his tawny-colored pit bull terrier’s dinner. He winces at the taste, and she whines impatiently waiting for her food because WTF is her owner doing. Giving audiences barely anytime to recover from watching extremely Zaddy 2.0 Pitt tenderly tongue his dog’s dinner, the action ramps up to its climax when strangers barge into the house, startling both Pitt and the pit. In fact, a lot of the best scenes in the movie — Tarantino’s most popular, according to early box office numbers — involve this dog named Brandy. In a movie earning both praise and criticism (Brad and Leo are charming as hell; the premise is regressive), there’s one character that is wholly unproblematic — she’s strong, inspiring, and dynamic. In short: The best female role in OUATIH was written for a literal dog, a disappointing truth since it's 2019 and every film should have at least one strong female lead whose feet aren’t leered at by a thirsty camera. It’s a disappointing aspect of an otherwise fun and (surprisingly) light-hearted film.
But... at least she’s a very, very good dog? And the breakout star(s) who brought the character to life have already won accolades for being total scene-stealers.
There are a lot of great scenes with Brandy, a character played by three different pit bulls, but most notable one named Sayuri, who helms from Delaware. Her owners, Monique and husband Matt Klosowski, were contacted by Hollywood trainers to come scout a few dogs from Delaware Red Pit Bulls, according to USA Today, who spoke with the couple after the film’s release. Unsurprisingly, casting a highly-anticipated tenth Tarantino movie is notoriously tight-lipped process and the couple had no idea what they were really agreeing to.
"In the end, we really don't know more than anyone else except that she plays a very significant role in the movie with Brad Pitt and that she is in a big final end scene," Monique told the site. Earlier this year at Cannes, where the movie first aired, the dogs playing Brandy took home the esteemed Palme Dog prize, given to only the most impressive animal performances of the year. While accepting the prize (a collar, naturally), Tarantino revealed that he would be the one keeping it, and elaborated on just how talented this rescue dog (and her contemporaries) made themselves out to be. “When I was editing the movie I realized, she’s a great actress,” he said. “I actually started seeing things in her face when I was cutting it together that I didn’t see on the day, so whatever little difficulties we had on set just really melted away when I saw what a great performance she gave.” She also got to, in the words of her owners, make out with Pitt.
Other than Robbie, and rising child star Julia Butters, Brandy the dog is the only other female character with any significant screen time, all of it opposite Pitt. Only these three female characters are given enough attention by the director to make a significant impact on the story’s arc. Even the crochet-wearing hippie Manson girls blur together after we meet them all, only standing out really for their familiar real-life faces (Lena Dunham! Dakota Fanning! Maya Hawke! Margaret Qually!), pulling viewers out of this fictionalized world. It’s Brandy who feels like a totally unexpected character — her performance is both contained and unhinged, and quite literally award-worthy.
Pitt himself was so impressed with this Queen of Movies that he even sent a gift to the Klosowskis after shooting wrapped: framed photos of him and Brandy, which can only mean that the two have completed my ultimate fantasy and have become best friends in the process of building their onscreen relationship. In fact, if Pitt wants to take this to the next level, Sayuri’s owners, lovely as they may be, are down to cut the cord with their dog and have her make a full Hollywood transition. "If Brad Pitt wanted the dog, she's his,” Matt told USA Today. “I'd gladly give Brad Pitt our dog.”
Now that is the power of cinema.