There are plenty of things to consider after seeing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: What really went down the night of August 8, 1969, the last full day Sharon Tate lived? Which characters in Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist history fantasy are based on real people from that time? And who of those people had the dirtiest feet? (For the record, it’s Dakota Fanning.) But the first thing I wondered aloud, to no one in particular, after stepping out of an evening screening: Does the bodega in my neighborhood sell Kraft mac and cheese? And will they sell it to me tonight?
One scene in Once Upon a Time made me urgently — desperately — crave the dinner du jour of my freshman year of college, when I didn’t know where the dining hall was and was too lazy to find it. It prompted me to pick up half a dozen boxes of Annie’s from the supermarket and consume far too much instant mac and cheese thereafter. Some friends felt similarly: “My main takeaway from the movie is that I want Kraft mac and cheese,” my friend Emma said. Jianna seconded that sentiment: “Emma, I texted my roommates and said we need to load up on kraft mac.” Jenny thirded it: “Last night I came home and made Annie’s cuz cvs was closed and i couldn’t get kraft!”
What I’m saying to you is this: Didn’t you also go home and make instant mac and cheese, inspired by the culinary prowess of Cliff Booth? Bon apple tea!
In Tarantino’s movie, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is a mysterious figure, a stuntman perpetually in the shadow of a washed-up actor named Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). Booth has scars and tattoos, and he maybe killed his wife. (Depending on how much you trust Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s narrator, the manner of Mrs. Booth’s death seems open to interpretation.) About 20 minutes into the film, we watch as Cliff drops Rick off at home and speeds off into the night. He pulls up to his own home — a small trailer, a little dilapidated, hidden behind a drive-in movie theater. When he walks in, he’s trampled by his dog Brandy, a star in her own right. On this particular night, Cliff arrives bearing gifts: a big, juicy bone that Brandy slobbers over. Despite her whining, he starts her dinner first: two cans of dog food.
And then Chef Cliff Booth — né Brad Pitt, my favorite Frank Ocean stan and our country’s last national treasure — pulls a beer out of the fridge and gets to work on his own dinner. Every other movie about “people” “cooking” has simply been outdone: I’m sorry, Big Night! Maybe next time, Mystic Pizza! Bradley Cooper’s bad-boy chef in Burnt? Jobless — try again with your Jackson Maine bronzer!
Brad Pitt fills a yellow, three-quart saucepan with — possibly not fresh? — water. He rips open a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. He puts it on his stove to cook, and then, because he’s Cliff Booth and not anyone else I have ever met, he drains the noodles, pours the cheese powder on top, and mixes it up without adding any further liquid. He plops down in his chair, with his beer, and watches TV while eating the mac and cheese straight from the saucepan. Reader, it is, in a word, erotic.
Cliff Booth is cool, in that special Tarantino way where the camera ogles even the mundane stuff he does. There’s no reason Brad Pitt making mac and cheese from a box — and not even Annie’s! — should look this good. But it does! The camera cuts to Rick Dalton, across town, making whiskey sours (another of my college staples, if we’re being honest) in a room full of his own memorabilia, his own one-sheets, his own likeness. It is a funny scene, but not nearly as engaging: I want Brad Pitt to make me a pot of mac and cheese, and I want to eat it from the pot too. That is, in fact, exactly what I did the very next day after seeing Once Upon a Time, and for a few days after that, too: bought Annie’s Shells & White Cheddar, cooked it myself, and ate it out of the pot. Because that’s what Cliff Booth would do, and Cliff Booth is cooler than me. And I imagined it: Brad Pitt boiling water in my apartment. Brad Pitt pouring the dry noodles in that water, in my apartment. Brad Pitt and I sitting on my West Elm loveseat, watching House Hunters together, eating the mac and cheese he cooked for us, in my apartment. It is so humble, so hot. He’d turn on the TV and say something like, “And away we gooo!” Brad Pitt, I am available for this!
It is known that Brad Pitt has a thing about eating while he acts: Onscreen, he has consumed bar nuts and bagels, Jamba Juice and prison gruel, human blood and eggs and bacon. This single scene of him eating a full pot of Kraft mac and cheese in one sitting outdoes all of those other scenes and all of those other foods. Give me Brad Pitt cooking mac and cheese or give me death!