This fun, fluffy doc lacks guts, grit and integrity
Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Always at The Carlyle
Opens July 6
Real-Life Goldfinger Donald Trump can call it “a joke” all he wants, but The Carlyle really is one of New York’s most legendary hotels. The grand old establishment is known for its classy art deco design, impressive clientele (from Jack Nicholson to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) and, above all, a fierce code of silence.
Never mind the staff’s refusal to gossip: the documentary Always At The Carlyle has stories for days. The hosts may refuse to blab but the guests are happy to. Some of the events that took place in the hotel are the stuff of legend: Marilyn Monroe’s killer rendition of “Happy Birthday”; Paul Newman’s experiments with vinaigrette; an elevator ride including Princess Diana, Michael Jackson and Steve Jobs. And that’s just what we know.
More than following a cinematic structure, the film focuses on the hotel’s most popular areas one at the time: the ridiculously expensive rooms, the Bemelmans Bar and the mythical Café Carlyle. The tone is relentlessly positive, so much so, it feels a bit like a 90-minute long infomercial. Clearly the hotel wouldn’t have been as accommodating otherwise.
I have two major problems with Always At The Carlyle. As fascinating as the New York landmark is, the film feels like a celebration of the rich and famous, even though the staff (the majority of whom are immigrants) have more compelling stories than any A-listers. Of all people, Harrison Ford comes the closest to hitting the nail on the head by pointing out the irrationality of paying $1,100 a night for an hotel room.
The second issue is the decision of the film’s producers to excise a Woody Allen interview. As problematic as the filmmaker may be, Woody is one of the most recognizable mainstays of the Carlyle (he’s played clarinet every Monday at the Café for decades), and a couple of passing references just don’t cut it. Of all genres, a documentary needs the courage of its convictions — even a fluffier doc like this.
Regardless of my misgivings over the film I’ll be damned if I wouldn’t stay at The Carlyle given an opportunity.