By: BabyRuth (Six Pack) –
Months after what became known as 2019’s second most horrific trailer (nothing beats Loqueesha) was dropped on an unsuspecting public, Tom Hooper’s feature-length adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s puzzling phenomenon Cats was finally released just in time to ruin the holidays for the young children whose unsuspecting parents thought it would be a fun family film.
The plot stays true to the stage show – every year a tribe of street cats, who refer to themselves as Jellicle cats (the “Jellicle” part is never explained) gather for the Jellicle ball where each perform a song and dance number for the wise cat named Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) in hopes to be chosen to be reincarnated (or rather, “ascend to the Heaviside Layer” – like literally go up into the sky in a flying chandelier). Yes, that is the story and there is no way this came about without the help of mind-altering substances.
But the story, or lack thereof, is not what Cats has ever been about. It’s about the spectacle. And whew boy, is this a spectacle.
This is a real film with a $95,000,000 budget and big stars that actually exists. And it is insane, terribly constructed with the absolute worst decision made at every turn, and looks like a bad acid trip.
And that deserves a toast.
I am ecstatic that a monstrosity on such a grand scale was made and released to a worldwide audience. This is this generation’s Ishtar.
While Cats may not have turned out to be the prestige film they were going for, it manages to be something even bigger. It’s Hollywood’s answer to The Room. They went for it. They went all in. They were not afraid. There will never be anything like this ever again.
I know it may seem that I am punching down here, since in the short time Cats has been released it has already received mass amounts of critical vitriol, but it really is as wrong-headed and terrible as everyone is saying. I wanted to be one of the very few to say I genuinely enjoyed it and people need to lighten up, but nah, it’s bad you guys.
The main reason is that this film was a very bad idea to begin with. Cats just isn’t something that transitions to film. I saw the stage production of Cats several years ago and in a theatre setting, I was able to get on board with its world.
Yes, it’s ridiculous – people in furry costumes crawling and licking and hissing and thrusting, but you buy into it when you’re watching it on a stage. Live actors pretending to be cats with names like Mr. Mistoffelees and Rum Tum Tugger singing and dancing –okay sure, that’s fine. Not so much on giant movie screen. It’s disconcerting and well, just weird (sometimes in the best possible way, often in the worst).
It’s like when Little Shop of Horrors (the greatest movie musical of all time) was adapted for the screen and test audiences hated the downer ending so much, that they had to scrap millions of dollars of footage and recut the film with a new happy ending. On-stage, the original ending is fine. The actors who supposedly died all come back for a silly finale and take their curtain call. But on-screen after they die, the credits roll and that’s it. Cats is like that, but it’s the whole damn thing. It just doesn’t work as a feature film no matter how many big names they get to sign on.
Wait though, maybe it would have worked better on-screen if the actors just wore cat costumes and they used practical effects instead of the strange CGI’d fur that floats unnaturally over their bodies? Well, that certainly would have helped. At least it wouldn’t have resulted in these nightmarish creatures we must look at for nearly two hours (every second is felt).
The “special effects” sure are something. Besides the strange human-cat hybrid design, they also never seem to touch the ground, but rather hover over it. Remember when an unfinished cut of Ang Lee’s Hulk was leaked and the Hulk never appeared to make impact with the ground? It’s similar to that.
Speaking of “unfinished,” a day before my screening it was announced that Universal would be sending out a patch to theaters nationwide to “fix” some of the glitches in the movie. Apparently, the film was rushed out and no one noticed (??) things like Judi Dench’s human hand complete with wedding ring being totally visible. (I was lucky enough to experience the unpatched version at my matinee screening. There’s a lot of talk about Dench’s hand, but nearly all the cats had human hands and feet- so someone please let me know if the patched version is different. Please and thank you.)
The craziest part of the computer-assisted design is that the lead actress (newcomer Francesca Hayward, a principal ballerina at The Royal Ballet) and most of the non-famous extras are professional dancers. But the special effects distract from their talent, making them all appear to float about like cartoon characters.
There are so many more aspects to get into and I am quickly running out of beers, but I’m still stuck on these “cats.”
Has anyone involved in the production of this film ever actually seen a cat? I know for a fact that Taylor Swift has. They seem to change in size depending on their surroundings, which makes for a very surreal viewing rather than the “they are cats and cats are small so everything around them is large” intent. Again, it’s terrible execution of something that shouldn’t stick out but because it’s so odd, it just adds to the Nyquil-induced fever dream result of sitting through this film.
Oh, oh! And then they introduce even stranger computer-generated humanoid creatures in the form of dancing cockroaches and mice. I heard these creations referred to as Lynchian and my god, that is the best way to describe it and I wish I had thought of it first.
I am so going to have nightmares about those tap dancing roaches scurrying across my floor and if I happen to wake up from them to find a blue key, so fucking help me god.
Okay, okay, so the cats are weird-looking (Hang on, I forgot to mention that the female cats have BOOBS and some cats wear clothes and some do not and some wear fur coats—ARE THOSE MADE FROM DEAD CATS??! ) and the production design leaves much to be desired, but it’s a musical, how is the music?
Cats, the stage show was a jellicle-juggernaut (I’m so so sorry, I’m drinking Scotch while I write this), becoming the longest-running musical on both Broadway and London’s West End for many years and grossing $3.5 billion in the US alone. So certainly, the music must be good?
Again, here’s something that worked in a theatre setting and not a theater setting. The songs are, with the exception of like two, pretty forgettable. Now on stage, with a live orchestra and the actors singing live, each one seems to be an event resulting in deserved applause. Not so much on film.
Even the showstopper, “Memory,” sung by Jennifer Hudson (who won an Oscar for doing this very exact thing) never connects on an emotional level because we barely get to know her character. Plus, I was too distracted by the buckets of snot pouring out of her nose. (Hooper no doubt attempting for another “I Dreamed a Dream” award-worthy extreme close-up.)
Ah yes, the cast. It’s really hard to watch these big stars swing for the fences only for the final result to look like this without suspecting that this was all one elaborate, $95 million dollar prank on them.
Some fare better than others. Taylor Swift and Jason Derulo both appear to be having fun posing and preening, and their numbers aren’t so far removed from the pop music videos we’re used to seeing them in. Rebel Wilson, contractually obligated to fall down at least once in every film, falls down several times. James Corden manages to be even more insufferable as a cat (shocker!) The silly “comic relief” (in quotes because they are neither comic nor relieving) sequences clash with the more dramatic moments featuring Jennifer Hudson, who is really going for it (again, though, the snot). Living legends Dench and Ian McKellen manage to look as respectable as they possibly can (quite commendable considering McKellen even licks milk from a saucer at one point). If you watch very closely, you can pinpoint the moments Idris Elba, as the villain Macavity, seems to be second-guessing his decision to appear in this film.
Note to self: Fire my agent.
Cats is the most bizarre movie musical since The Apple. I’m torn on whether to recommend this one to bad movie lovers, because while it most certainly is bad (in every imaginable way), it’s super long and unnerving and also: James Corden. It’s definitely one of those things that needs to be seen to be believed. And again, it’s hard to imagine that there will ever be a misfire of this magnitude again, so for that, yeah, go see it. God bless you Tom Hooper!
And fuck you, James Corden!
Cats (2019) Drinking Game
(Suggestion: drink the strongest liquor you have out of a saucepan, kitty style.)
Take a Drink: whenever Rebel Wilson falls down
Take a Drink: every time someone says “jellicle”
Take a Drink: whenever you feel embarrassed for anyone in this movie (not including James Corden)
Take a Drink: for Jennifer Hudson snot
Take a Drink: for every CGI glitch you notice
Take a Drink: Is? Is Idris Elba…naked?
Take a Drink: for Macavity’s villain music, which sounds like an 80s horror movie synth score
Do a Shot: for every cat pun
Do a Shot: when Jason Derulo yells “MILK!”
Chug: during the last five minutes when for the first time in your life you will want Judi Dench to just shut up