Friday, 9 March 2018

Critic’s-Eye View: “Catching Feelings”

A new South African romantic comedy is opening this weekend, comedian Kagiso Lediga’s Catching Feelings, which he wrote, directed, and stars in. I have not yet seen it, but here are other views on the film that I found in various publications. Let me know of any I may have missed and should add here.

Read The Back Row’s review of Catching Feelings here.

In her Channel24 review, Gabi Zietsman awards the film three stars out of five and says that Lediga “goes for a more refined style” than the slapstick gags and vulgar jokes used by other comedians entering movies, “that deals intimately with race relations in South Africa and how fragile masculinity can kill love.”

Lediga … has a smooth approach to such touchy subjects and manages to create a safe space where he can explore these issues without really offending the audience. Both sides are shown to have flaws and strengths, and the story actually follows a tasteful debate around the issues without trying to hide away from the harsh truths …
Although these issues [of white privilege and fragile masculinity] are not unique to South Africa (especially in the US context), Lediga places it heavily in a local context that rings true for our audiences without being offensive. It does come packaged in an academic setting … but Lediga still managed to touch on the educational divide … The jokes sometimes fell a bit flat or came too many at once, which may be a result of Lediga’s comedic background.
I also feel like he could have cast a stronger actress than Pearl Thusi, whose main purpose seems to be to look pretty in underwear … It almost feels like Lediga derides his female characters and makes them far less substantial than the supporting male characters (Andrew Buckland and Akin Omotoso were brilliant), despite being very aware of what toxic and fragile masculinity is.

Masego Panyane wrote another three-star (out of five) review, for the Tonight, in which he opines,

The film fashions itself as a love letter to Johannesburg. It features some beautifully composed shots over Johannesburg and shows her off as I would have pictured her: a woman who is trendy, cool, sophisticated, and level-headed, while a little rough around the edges. The casting is also quite interesting. … We see Akin Omotoso’s less intense side, but also his versatility as an actor. … Precious Makgaretsa’s portrayal of Lazola is comical. That awkward intensity that she brings is endearing. … While Pearl Thusi’s acting cannot be faulted, I just couldn’t connect with her character. …
The film explores themes of trust in young marriages, friendship, success, infidelity, and the other perils of being young, black, and fabulous in Johannesburg. I loved that the film is seriously relatable and that it makes some valid points in its commentary on race relations in the country. The conversation about race and privilege between Max, Heiner, and a woman, who is a researcher, is bound to leave people squirming in their seats. … Catching Feelings has just the right amount of funny and serious to make for interesting talking points.

In a City Press review, Phumlani S Langa compares the opening of the film to “Woody Allen’s Manhattan, where he plays a slightly eccentric and quirky creative in a dialogue-intensive film in which scenery plays a big role,” and goes on to say

The first half of this movie is quite enjoyable, with lighthearted dialogue and provocative subtext. Ledgia pokes fun at everything from slam poetry to the awkward behaviour of white people when they see a poor-looking black person. It also showcases the city in a very suave way. … The sex scenes are daring for local cinema, which I enjoyed. So is the dialogue, which makes you laugh and think, without being preachy.
I would have enjoyed more of Joel’s brash, borderline-crass views on things. Having that alongside Lediga’s role, who seems like a conflicted woke oke, would have been cool. Joel has a side story that sees him falling for a married white woman. We need more of that interracial love on screens, but this story fizzles out without resolution. Ending films seems to be difficult for local producers. This is one of three local films on circuit that have problematic climaxes. After this couple has been through quite a bit, we don’t know whether or not they weathered the storm or capitulated. …
Lediga and Thusi both deliver solid performances in this classy and stylish production. This is probably my favourite Thusi piece. The film plays a little like a personal classic, Midnight in Paris, without the fantasy aspect.

Zaza Hlalethwa reviewed Catching Feelings for the Mail & Guardian, relating elements of the film to her own life:

Like dating in my 20s, Catching Feelings is laced with unqualified trust issues and meaningless infidelities, lubricated by drinking matched only in TV land by Mad Men. Except that these are grown folk so the threat of consequences outweighing the thrill is a thing that none of the cast cares to think about. Perhaps I would be more comfortable with the characters if they were 19 or 23 years old, who were only starting to come to terms with the world around them.
Like learning a new word and using it in various contexts to text and practice one’s understanding of it, the characters are quick to point out and use terms pertaining to issues such as white privilege, substance abuse, and men using their power to prey on young women — as if to show their awareness of these issues. This is great but, as with the use of new words, the seeds of attempted awareness do not fall on fertile ground, because they fail to act against what they call out. There are plenty of missed opportunities to give the characters more compelling storylines than the caricatures that they are. Some of the women characters enter the story with promise but dissipate into nothing more than punctuation marks in an extended dialogue between men. …
Catching Feelings, like the superficial friendships and connections I made to survive university, gives the viewer no solid foundation from which to rationalise the behaviour of the characters. The viewer does not get to know the characters and what motivates their actions, making it difficult for us to care about what happens to any of them. … What the film does get right are the scenes with minimal dialogue in which the cinematography gets to shine and show off Park Station, Wits University, landmarks in Soweto, and the nightlife in Melville, among other places. Accompanied by music ranging from vintage pop to contemporary rap, Bokani Dyer’s score provides a generational mix that works to complement the dynamic scene of the city.

The American pop culture blog Forces of Geek published a review of Catching Feelings, probably for its screenings at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Reviewer Kristen Halbert focuses on the quality of likeability in Lediga’s leading role and performance:

As engaging as the story can be, the persistent paranoia and general lack of charm in the main character make this a much more challenging film that it had to be. … rarely does Max show the kind of humility that the audience needs to even occasionally be on his side. … Sam is not a fully fleshed-out character. She seems like someone who would end up as the manic pixie type if given more lines, but instead serves as an attractive yin to Max’s awkward and angry yang; a beautiful and blandly personable foil to Maxi’s infidelities.
The setting of Johannesburg brings another dimension to the film. Certainly, Lediga did not shy away for the role that race plays and interactions in current-day South Africa. [sic] … Lediga did an excellent job portraying the bitter and nervous Max. Though she was not given much to work with, Pearl Thusi gave a non-offensive performance as Sam. You have to wonder what else she is capable of, though, as there was nearly no range given for her to try out. Akin Omotoso was perfect as Joel, providing both light comic relief as well as the closest iteration of an actual person. But the performance that was the most believable and enjoyable to watch was certainly Andrew Buckland as Heiner. He struck a wonderful balance between the wisdom of age and the frivolity of a literary rockstar.

Shadow and Act, a website dedicated to audiovisual content by Africans, published a review of the film for its Los Angeles Film Festival screening. Iquo B Essien comments on the story:

In the end, Catching Feelings is a story about how a black former writer, disenchanted by his life, lets his world be turned upside down by an older, more famous white writer. It feels like a story we’ve seen before … though its South African cast and backdrop changes the particularities sufficiently enough to put a new spin on an old story. …
Lediga’s subtle yet balanced commentary on the inequities among white and black South Africans in post-apartheid Johannesburg let his comedic roots shine through …
Despite its great dialogue, outstanding ensemble cast, and solid performances, though, the characters all have pretty great lives and, perhaps because of it, try to screw them up in predictable ways. … to its credit, Catching Feelings is a multiracial South African film that’s not explicitly about race — though the somewhat peaceful coexistence of its characters often belies Lediga’s incisive racial commentary.

Kati Dijane wrote a brief review of the film for her blog, KDanielles Media:

Sex, drugs, student life, cheating, insecurities, and anger are some of the things that thread the plot of the movie together. It’s not epic and neither will you be on the edge of your seat, but it’s thought-provoking, and to an extent relatable. The star-studded cast, as well as the plot, make the film worth a watch.

The YouTube channel NqanaweLIVE posted a review of Catching Feelings, which you can watch here.

The reviewer tha - bang reviewed Catching Feelings on the site TVSA, writing:

Kudos to Kagiso Lediga for giving us a romantic comedy with a little more bit and a little more “real world” context. Catching Feelings still gives you romantic comedy candy floss but with a touch of the middle class black South African pain and angst over race issues, drafts, wallet size issues, and cheating. Lediga feels like Woody Allen in Annie Hall or Manhattan — a man disconnected from everyone. We laugh at this idiosyncrasies. Agree and disagree with his insights. Get to experience the 8% life of black middle class that’s not in the township, rural areas, or squatter camps. …
Lediga tries to do too much with the script. There’s a need to comment on almost everything from crass BEE consumerism to the last white bastion that Cape Town is, whilst still trying to tell a story of a writer who is thinking of cheating on his wife … no, a writer who’s having too much fun with the white dude … no, a writer with a hot wife but feels like she’s not good enough … no, it’s about a writer who has a friend who has an affair … There’s a lot of stuff that is set up but doesn’t go anywhere once the gag is done, and doesn’t play out whatever ideological insight Lediga was trying to make.

The reviewer Suzette Kotzé-Myburgh reviewed Catching Feelings for the Afrikaans culture site LitNet, awarding it four stars (without saying out of how many), writing that 

The film is perhaps a little too dialogue-heavy, but, after all, it deals with writers and literature. With a wry grin and while joking about everything from alcohol and sex to feminism and racism, it becomes a thorough investigation of relationships and especially faithful (or unfaithful) spouses. But, ultimately, Catching Feelings is about identity: who is each of us in the new South Africa, and who are we trying to be?

The reviewer J.W. Hurter reviewed Catching Feelings for the site Bioskoop, writing that

Although the production shows the splendour of previously unexplored areas in Johannesburg, and music is used effectively to create the atmosphere of each scene, it’s diminished by performances that seem as though they’re the first given by newly graduated acting students. There is no conviction that the characters’ emotions are real nor that there isn’t a director standing right outside the shot. The reality that is supposed to be created by the film is broken down by prominent discontinuities and sound effects that would only be appropriate in a soap opera.
However, the production addresses a number of important themes that are generally suppressed in public, but does not delve deep enough to bring about undeniably positive consequences in the audience’s mindset. Yes, the themes are important and are hidden in the subconscious of the audience, but the grip that the film has on the audience’s attention is negated by poorly suited scenes.

Comment with your thoughts on the film, and on others’ responses to it.

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