*CUT TO THE CHASE*NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy
Bel Air, CA, 1926 – Manuel “Manny” Torres (Diego Calva) meets a truck driver set to help him transport an elephant to a party being thrown by studio executive Don Wallach (Jeff Garlin). Despite being told that he was transporting a horse, Manny bribes the driver to carry the elephant. As they go up a hill, the elephant’s weight causes the truck to start rolling downwards. Manny and his partner try to push the truck back up, and the elephant violently defecates on Manny’s partner.
Manny is helped by a convoy to take the elephant to the party. It is extravagant and over-the-top, with many nude or topless women and a cavalcade of drugs. Jazz musician Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) plays with his band, and cabaret singer Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li) performs a sultry song for the crowd. Arriving at the party is veteran actor Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), whose wife Ina (Olivia Wilde) demands a divorce after he keeps speaking to her in Italian and not taking her seriously. Jack hooks up with a waitress during the party. Manny also sees as a young woman, Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), arrives as she crashes her car into a statue. When the security guard tries to deny her entry, Manny helps get her inside. He brings Nellie to a room with drugs, and they do coke together. Nellie talks about how she came from New Jersey and has aspirations for stardom, while Manny comes from Mexico and wants to leave his mark on the film industry. Manny quickly falls in love with Nellie.
During the party, a young actress, Jane Thornton (Phoebe Tonkin), overdoses on drugs while partying with an older man and giving him a golden shower. Manny’s boss Bob Levine (Flea) orders him and his co-worker to fix the problem. They set the elephant loose into the party, freaking out the other partygoers, so that they can sneak the unconscious Jane through the party unnoticed. A very high and intoxicated Nellie then dances her way through the crowd and makes an impression. As the party dies down, Nellie is given an invitation to be part of a film set since Jane was supposed to have the role.
Manny is instructed by Bob to take a passed-out Jack back to his house. Despite a brief drunken display, and a tumble over the balcony into his pool, Jack remains fine and requests for Manny to stick around with him.
Later in the day, Jack goes to work on a crusader epic film. Manny is brought along to handle the extras, who charge after him until he grabs a gun and rides a horse to scare them off. The horses wreck all the cameras, and the director (Spike Jonze) wants to get his closing shot before the sun sets. Manny drives to a camera shop and waits over an hour for the last available camera. With little time left, Manny steals an ambulance and makes it back to the set in time for the crew to get a sweeping shot of Jack kissing the leading lady, with a butterfly landing on him for extra flair. The crew cheers.
As this happens, Nellie shows up to the set and meets the director, Ruth Adler (Olivia Hamilton) and her assistant director Max (PJ Byrne). Although Olivia was hoping for the other actress “with the tits”, she settles for Nellie. She is set to play a role in a silent western film where she enters a bar and puts on a crude display. The film’s lead actress, Constance Moore (Samara Weaving), arrives and is upstaged by Nellie, who impresses both Ruth and a visiting Wallach with her acting. A nearby set fire almost derails the production, but Ruth orders the cameras to continue rolling.
1927 – Nellie’s star begins to rise in Hollywood, with her work on the film continuing to outdo Constance, who is angry because it’s her money going into the film. Nellie’s father Robert (Eric Roberts) arrives and attempts to capitalize off her newfound fame. Meanwhile, Jack helps Manny get assistant work on films. Jack marries a Hungarian actress, Olga Putti (Karolina Szymczak), but she shoots him in the arm after learning that he cheated on her.
Manny goes to the theater and watches “The Jazz Singer”, one of the first “talkie” films. He calls Jack to let him know that things are about to change.
1928 – Manny finds Nellie again after getting her away from crazed fans and photographers. She talks to him about peoples’ perception of her and how she tries to not let that define her. He accompanies her to visit her mother (Vanessa Bednar), who is institutionalized.
Nellie goes to work on a talking picture, but the set is too hot and causes stress on her, plus Ruth since she is badgered by the sound mixer Lloyd (Carson Higgins) over how loud or how quiet Nellie is, along with other distractions. One of the crew members begs to be let out of the recording booth since it is too hot, but Max forces him to stay there. After the crew finally gets a successful take, everyone cheers until the crew member collapses dead out of the booth from heatstroke.
Manny goes to another party where Jack arrives with his third wife, Estelle (Katherine Waterston). Sidney and his band are playing, while Fay is also a guest. Nellie arrives being carried by a football team and takes an opportunity to kiss Jack in front of Estelle. Fay takes a moment to perform a sensual dance with Nellie, which is ruined by a drunk partygoer pushing through them. When she goes to the bathroom to freshen up, Nellie overhears two men talking about how she has no talent and has a voice like a dying pig, which hurts her feelings. She then goes outside and sees her dad talking to another woman about fighting a snake. Nellie calls everyone out and asks if anyone wants to see Robert fight a snake, to which the crowd responds with a cheer.
Jack, Nellie, Manny, Fay, Robert, and other guests drive into the desert where Nellie encounters a rattlesnake and tells Robert to fight it. Robert gets himself into a fighting position, but he passes out. Nellie then opts to fight the snake herself, despite the warnings of everyone else. Nellie grabs the snake, which bites her neck. After she frantically runs around and the others fail to help her, Fay grabs a knife and decapitates the snake before sucking the venom out of Nellie’s neck. When Nellie regains consciousness, she passionately kisses Fay.
Later on, Manny recommends Sidney for a job at Kinoscope Studios. Bob is impressed with Manny’s work and offers him an executive position, but he tells Manny that he needs to do something about Nellie, as her reputation is going downhill due to her constant partying and gambling, as well as her alleged relationship with Fay, which gets Fay fired since Hollywood is becoming more puritanical. Nellie overhears Manny’s pitch to the higher-ups about fixing her reputation, setting her up with gossip journalist Elinor St. John (Jean Smart) to fix her up.
Sidney begins working at Kinoscope Studios since black-led films are taking off. However, he becomes upset and uncomfortable when Manny suggests he apply blackface makeup. He leaves the studio for good and never looks back.
Jack learns that his close friend George Munn (Lukas Haas) killed a woman he was having an affair with and then committed suicide. Jack is distraught and gets into an argument with Estelle when she refers to his work as “low art”.
1930 – Hollywood has completely transitioned into talking films. Manny and Elinor have worked hard trying to revamp Nellie’s image. She is brought to a party with other snotty upper-class socialites and film people in attendance, and she attempts to project a more posh and sophisticated image. However, Nellie can no longer pretend to hide her disdain for the other guests and goes off on a profane tirade before pigging out on the food and storming out. Seconds later, she walks back in to projectile-vomit on the rug and on the face of the party’s host.
1932 – Jack finds his career going in decline. He continues to work for Kinoscope in low-budget films, but he goes to a theater and finds an audience laughing at his performance in his latest film. Jack also reads a column written by Elinor after she interviewed him about his star fading, and he goes to confront her. She bluntly tells him that his time as an actor is over, but he and everyone else in his time will be immortalized with their films for future generations, so he can take comfort in knowing that they have left their mark on the industry. Jack later gets a call from executive Irving Thalberg (Max Minghella), who initially states that he’s got a good project for him, but Jack knows it would be a favor for him and that the project sucks, which Thalberg admits to.
Manny is visited at his home by a disheveled and panicked Nellie. She tells him that she owes 85 grand in gambling debts to a gangster, and if she doesn’t pay up by the end of the week, they will pour acid onto her genitals. Manny initially refuses to help, but seeing how distraught Nellie is, and remembering their time together and how much he cares about her, he decides to help. He goes to “The Count” (Rory Scovel), a long-time co-worker who pushed drugs on sets and is also an aspiring actor.
Manny and The Count go to the home of the gangster, James McKay (Tobey Maguire), with the bag of money in tow. When McKay goes to fetch drinks, The Count reveals that the bag is filled with prop money, which makes Manny extremely nervous. McKay invites the two, along with his thug Wilson (Ethan Suplee), to an underground location where depraved sex acts are taking place. McKay guides them to see their main attraction, a brutish man who eats lives rats. When McKay starts throwing the prop money at the man, he finds a drop of water on it and realizes it’s fake. Manny grabs a mace and jams it into Wilson’s neck, and the other men chase after them. Manny sets loose a chained alligator and continues running with The Count, narrowly escaping gunfire.
Manny gets Nellie and urges her to join him in running away to Mexico. Together with The Count, they pack their bags and go to find gas. As Manny begins pumping, Nellie walks into a party and begins dancing. When Manny stresses that they need to go soon, Nellie breaks down over all the trouble she has put Manny through, especially as he tells her how much he loves her. They agree to marry in Mexico and start a new life. A nearby photographer records Manny and Nellie dancing as they share their first kiss.
Jack is at a party with his newest girlfriend. He runs into Fay one last time, as she tells him she is heading to Europe to work for Pathé Studios. They say goodbye, and Fay looks back at Jack sadly. Jack then quietly walks up to his hotel room and grabs a gun, shooting himself in the head.
Manny goes to The Count’s apartment to get the last of their things, leaving Nellie in the car to wait for him, but she feels she is no good for Manny and dreamily dances away into the darkness. One of McKay’s thugs shows up and kills The Count and his roommate. Manny begs for his life, even wetting himself, but the thug orders Manny to leave Los Angeles. Manny hops in his car and books it.
A brief montage shows people attending Jack’s funeral, along with newspaper articles announcing Elinor’s death at 76, and Nellie being found dead in her hotel room at 34.
1952 – Manny returns to Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. He stops at Kinoscope Studios and talks to a security guard, stating that he has a successful business in New York. While the wife and daughter go back to their hotel, Manny goes to the movies to watch “Singin’ in the Rain”. He notes many similarities between the film and his time with Nellie, which brings him to tears as he misses her. Another montage shows the evolution of films from the silent era through the 20th century, to more contemporary films like “Terminator”, “The Matrix”, and “Avatar”. Realizing that he achieved his dream of leaving his mark on the industry, Manny smiles through his tears.
Set between the mid 1920's to the early 30's in Hollywood, Manny Torres is a Mexican immigrant working odd jobs while trying to make a name for himself. He encounters veteran silent film actor Jack Conrad, who helps him get better work, as well as aspiring starlet Nellie LaRoy, with whom Manny falls in love with. While Nellie's career takes off, the emergence of talking pictures begins a decline in Jack's career.
Nellie's behavior proves too chaotic to keep her employed, so Manny tries to help revamp her image, to no success. Although Jack attempts to stay relevant, he is told his star has faded and that he can take comfort in knowing his films will be viewed for future generations. He ends up committing suicide in his hotel room.
Nellie goes to Manny for help in paying off debts to gangster James McKay. Manny gets help from an on-set drug pusher called The Count, but they end up bringing McKay prop money, which forces them to go on the run when McKay and his thugs go after them. Manny convinces Nellie to run away with him to Mexico, but she ends up disappearing after realizing she will only bring Manny more trouble. The Count is killed by one of McKay's thugs, who forces Manny to leave Los Angeles.
20 years later, Manny returns to Los Angeles with his wife and daughter after setting up a business in New York. He goes to the theater to watch "Singin' in the Rain" and cries because it reminds him of Nellie. However, he finds solace in knowing he achieved his dream of being part of something bigger.