'Always at the Carlyle': Film Review

A fawning doc for the rich and those who idolize them.
5/11/2018

Interviewees ranging from George Clooney to the late Elaine Stritch laud the Manhattan hotel in Matthew Miele's doc.

Having recently made feature-length gushes about the joys of Tiffany's and Bergdorf Goodman, Matthew Miele heads a few blocks uptown for Always at the Carlyle, another "documentary" that sees no reason to hide its advertorial nature. Pairing a long list of celebrity interviewees with the pleased-as-punch Carlyle Hotel staffers who serve them, the film celebrates one small corner of the world where this century's iteration of the Gilded Age still feels like its more refined predecessor. If the "one percent" have their own secret cable channel that's only accessible on platinum set-top boxes, this is what that channel shows at 3 a.m., to soothe any viewers whose sleep was disturbed by dreams of pitchforks and guillotines.

Miele's production company, Quixotic Endeavors, brags on its website about pursuing "projects with an iconic theme" while embracing "the need to have the stories fully authorized." And so we get a film that bizarrely trumpets the company line about the Carlyle's discretion — "we don't mention names" of guests, a manager claims — at the same time that it's squeezing in as many mentions and pictures of famous guests as it possibly can. For Pete's sake, there's a picture of an especially glamorous-looking David Bowie on the wall behind the interviewee as he brags about not name-dropping.

Soon Miele is talking to celebs directly about their feelings about the place. "We're talking about love," says Anthony Bourdain of his affection; George Clooney reveals that he stayed here for three months out of the previous year. Sitting in a room overlooking Central Park, Jon Hamm reports, "if you're staying here, you feel like you've made it." Hamm then acknowledges that he has never stayed at the Carlyle. What the hell is he doing in the movie, then?

The doc is so eager to tell you who's visited the hotel and eaten at the restaurant (JFK allegedly trysted here, which didn't keep his widow from enjoying the Cobb salad) that it shares very little about the hotel's origins and operations. While we're given the impression, for instance, that the Carlyle is a kind of mom-and-pop refuge from a world of corporatized luxury (you can smell speakers' disdain for the Plaza and the Waldorf), nobody mentions that this onetime family business is now just one of many properties owned by Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, which operates in a dozen countries.

The doc eventually stops talking about $20,000-a-night hotel suites and royal visitors long enough to point out the things about the Carlyle that can be enjoyed by non-plutocrat New Yorkers, albeit those looking for a painful splurge: If you're willing to spend $21 on a pisco sour (perhaps Madame would prefer a $9 Corona?), you, too, can appreciate the charming murals in Bemelmans Bar, painted by the artist who gave us the Madeleine books. Or you can go to the hotel's namesake cafe, once home to Bobby Short and still the place to see Woody Allen play clarinet. (If, that is, you can spend $165 for a seat at a table and agree to a $75 minimum order on top of that.)

The Carlyle Cafe's musical offerings are not what you'd call cutting-edge, but the doc is best when discussing this nostalgic scene, which many will remember from Short's appearance in 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters. Sure, Miele flubs the storytelling when he's trying to claim the ghost of Elaine Stritch visited his shoot, but interviews with Alan Cumming and Lenny Kravitz help establish the role this venue still plays in the nightlife of the Upper East Side.

Viewers who can turn off their class consciousness for 91 minutes may enjoy these scenes of old-fashioned crooning. Others may still be reeling from the doc's interviews with the hotel's mostly lovable service employees, who speak with no evident resentment about the things they've been called upon to do. One man remembers a guest who brought a small dog with her and, unwilling to go outside to walk it, also would not accept floor mats in her room. The dog needed real grass, she insisted, so the man went out and bought squares of sod to serve as an indoor dog toilet. That, you see, is just the kind of place the Carlyle is. And if you'd like to have a person that spoiled as your neighbor for a night or a week, the Carlyle is just the place for you.

Production company: Quixotic Endeavors
Distributor: Good Deed Entertainment
Director-screenwriter: Matthew Miele
Producers: Justin Bare, Jennifer Cooke, Matthew Miele
Executive producers: Julie Candelaria, Scott Donley, Kristin Harris, G. Brandon Hill
Director of photography: Justin Bare
Editor: Mac Edgerton
Composer: Earl Rose

Rated PG-13, 91 minutes