Sophia Takal is an actor/director/producer. She directed the feature film Green and is editing a new one called Always Shine. She produces and acts in her husband, writer/director Lawrence Michael Levine’s movies like Gabi on the Roof in July and Wild Canaries, which just came out on Netflix! She also acts in other people’s movies.
Larry and I have moved to Los Angeles for a little while. The following piece is transcribed from a recording I made on my ride home from seeing Magic in the Moonlight, Woody Allen’s astoundingly mediocre new film.
So, Nick Dawson gave me the option to either go to a 7:00 pm screening at Sony or a 7:30 pm screening at Linwood Dunn with a reception to follow. Obviously, I picked the one with the reception because it meant there were going to be snacks. The day came when I was supposed to go and I didn’t really want to go. I was tired, and Larry and I had been apart for a few days. Anyway, I drive to the Linwood Dunn Theater and realize that this is my first screening in Los Angeles that isn’t part of a festival — just some fancy screening where there’s going to be a reception…. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but I’m going to assume that no matter how famous or rich you get, snacks are always enticing so I figure it’s going to be a big deal.
I arrive and park in the free parking lot, which is exciting because it’s free. I feel like a real Angeleno getting excited about a free parking lot. I enter the building, nervous that I’m underdressed because everyone around me is in suits and I’m dressed in my best Annie Hall-inspired outfit. They take my name and let me in and all around me are these very, very old Jews. I really want to make a joke on Twitter about Old Jews Telling Jokes, but I get nervous Nick would get mad at me and that somehow that joke would be a disgrace to the Talkhouse. I walk toward the screening room and see a whole red carpet-y, photo op-type situation in the front which I know means that some famous people are going to show up and that everyone who isn’t famous will get so very excited and gawk. Snacks + celebrities = the best LA has to offer.
I walk into the screening room. It is very nice. I notice that all the seats except for the first two rows are reserved for the producer and for the different actors in the film. I sit down in the second row and there are two nerdy guys sitting in front of me, a few seats apart, so it’s clear they don’t know each other. They’re talking about how one of them interviews people and instead of asking them personal questions asks what they like to do in their free time. I think about how I would answer that question if I was famous but can’t come up with anything interesting. They then discuss whether or not Woody Allen will be there.
I start to get a really LA vibe. Suddenly people start turning around and scanning the room. They’re wondering who’s here, who the famous people are. Then this one young woman comes in with a group of people and I hear a publicist say to her, “Can you sit on the edge so that when we introduce you, you can wave?” And there’s an older man with her, he’s maybe Jewish or maybe Italian, and very fat and very vocal. He keeps telling her to “always sit in the middle,” and I realize he is some kind of career advisor — a manager, a mentor, some type of person that I thought only existed in Woody Allen movies from the past. He is clearly invested in her career and he starts talking to her about the sponsors of this particular screening (Sabra Hummus, Purity Vodka) and says, “Soon you’ll be at these places where BMW is the sponsor and you’ll get a free car, and you’ll go to the Oscar gifting suite. Soon!” He also says, “You should always remember that whatever you say and do is going to be recorded on social media. Anything you do, anything you say is monitored — you say this, you say that. Every social site, everything you say will never disappear. Just say something nice.”
I find this interaction very troubling. It makes me very uncomfortable. I feel like she is probably from the Midwest. She is also the worst actor in the movie, but that’s beside the point.
Then a guy from Sony Pictures Classics introduces the movie and points out all the famous people who are in the audience. The movie starts and a couple people applaud for some of the people that the guy from SPC had pointed out were in the audience. I zone out for the first 10 minutes of the movie and start thinking about my own movie, and who I want to cast in this one part. But then I get into the movie; Emma Stone appears on screen and I’m really taken by her! I finally understand what people mean when they say, “That’s a movie star!” You watch her and you cannot take your eyes off of her. She’s just so extraordinary to look at and she knows how to say Woody Allen dialogue without sounding like Woody Allen.
Then something happens, I don’t know what, and I just start really tripping out about Woody Allen. I’m just like, “Who is Woody Allen? What does he do every day? What is he thinking about?” I’ve read biographies about him. I saw the long documentary about him. I know what he wants people to think he does every day and I know how he presents himself to the world but I cannot fathom what man made this movie. There is so much exposition. This is a man who is a genius. The man is a genius. Woody Allen is a genius. I don’t care what other people think of him. I don’t care about the allegations. He’s a genius. He has made some of the most phenomenal films of all time and yet I’m watching this movie and wondering, is he senile? Is the reason he keeps repeating information because he, himself, when he was writing, started to forget it? There’s literally a line where someone says, “George, Caroline’s husband, the psychotherapist,” just to make perfectly sure we understood that Emma Stone is referring to one of the main characters in the film. Is this one of the first scripts he wrote and he pulled it out of a drawer and decided to make it now? Also, why does he make movies set in the past? It’s bad enough he doesn’t make movies in New York — now he makes movies set in the 1920s? Wouldn’t it be cool if he made a movie set in the 1970s? What would that be like?
And it’s so bad. But it’s also so comforting to watch something by Woody Allen just simply because it’s comforting to know Woody Allen exists. And his movies always start out the same way with the great music and the simple font and the credits in alphabetical order. I wonder what Woody Allen would be like if he started out now. Would he ever be able to make it? And then I start thinking about feminism and if you could be a feminist and like Woody Allen. And then by the end of the movie I just was so sad that Emma Stone was so young and Colin Firth was so old because it was just another movie where that happens. And then the movie ends.
I leave the theater and head out to the reception area! There are some famous people and then there are some not-famous people who keep asking who the famous people are that are getting their pictures taken: “Who’s that blonde girl they are taking a picture of?” (Lily Rabe.) I wonder if Lily Rabe heard the people asking who she was and, if she did, how that felt. And then I wait in line for a Nutella, strawberry and banana mini-crepe. I am so anxious, the line is moving really slowly and all I want is a crepe. I finally get one, but it isn’t as great as I thought it would be. Then I walk over to the Sabra station and get some of those miniature hummus packages with pretzel crisps and some mango-, lime- and chili-flavored potato chips fried in coconut oil, and grab a glass of wine on my way out.