‘Cats’ doesn’t even deserve a clever cat pun

by Kate Walz on December 20, 2019

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Rock Fist Way Down]

Every kink should have its own movie. S&M has Secretary and a slew of others. Auto crash paraphiliacs have Crash (and more James Spader). Love an orgy? There’s loads to choose from, but let’s say Eyes Wide Shut.

Well, this one is for the Furries.

Possibly the only redeeming point of Cats is that maybe, MAYBE, it is just the right kink for someone who hasn’t gotten to see their particular bent on screen before.

Because otherwise, this is an unholy mess of a movie.

The origin story – a theatrical production based on the stories of T.S. Eliot – debuted in 1981. It was cobbled together with the thinnest of plots, depending wholly on music and razzle dazzle to keep the audience engaged.

That works in the theater, with breathing actors to connect with and cheer for. It does not, as director Tom Hooper (Les Miserables, The King’s Speech) has now shown us in spades, work in any way, shape or form on screen.

Opening with a bag being tossed in an alley, newcomer (to movies and the alley) Francesca Hayward portrays the wide-eyed innocent Victoria. The cats are competing to ascend to their next life, and they tell the audience about themselves via song. That’s the whole plot.

Hayward’s real job is as a ballet dancer. She does sing, with the thin high voice of an ingenue, reasonably well. But she loves to dance, and watching her dance brings a point of escapism to the movie. Because you need it.

Rebel Wilson kicks off the competition with the most cringe-worthy and committed performance I’ve ever seen. It’s embarrassing to watch – not because she isn’t bringing everything she is to the production – but because it’s so over-the-top zany and bizarre and committed to its own weirdness.

But the songs aren’t that great. Before seeing this, I couldn’t name a song from Cats besides “Memory” and I still can’t. It turns out building a musical based on a writing exercise of turning Eliot poems into song isn’t optimal for hooks.

Dame Judi Dench (career coming full circle, as she was supposed to open the original Cats run in London, but was unable to) and Sir Ian McKellan play aged kitties and I wanted to euthanize them to put them out of their own misery. Idris Elba, as the most famous cat – Macavity (and my favorite of the original poems, go read it – it’s delightful), has the misfortune of having his fur the same color as his skin – making him look completely naked.

None of the actors are treated particularly well in this fiasco. But the most kicked of all the kittens is Jennifer Hudson.

At some point, I just started sitting through the insanity waiting for things I knew were coming that might be okay – the Taylor Swift appearance and Jennifer Hudson singing ‘Memories.’

Swift is here for it, and she is bringing everything she’s got. But she’s so aggressive in her focus on the camera she seems to move like a linebacker – all shoulders, head down charging. Her voice is well-trained, but not widely ranged, and in a musical that really shows.

But, Jennifer. Poor, poor Jennifer.

It seems it was very important to Hooper that Grizabella have feline leukemia, to help with the allusion of a fallen, abused and misused sex worker. So Jennifer Hudson spends most of the movie with trails of snot running down her face.

Every scene.

It’s disgusting.

And after two or three false starts with kicking off “Memory”, it’s so lackluster and disappointing. You can find Hudson doing a more compelling version of it on YouTube.

One can only hope the many young actors in this movie (Hayward, Laurie Davidson, and Jason Derulo come immediately to mind) are so unrecognizable in their offputting fur bodies that this doesn’t ruin their careers. Because they really are putting their all into it.

All that said…

The woman sitting in front of me at the theater was having an absolutely incredible time. She clapped and cheered, laughed and cried, and proudly wore cat ears.

So, finally – a movie for the people who truly love the original music. And/or the Furries.

Kate Walz

Kate is a content-consuming pop-culture nerd. Her top 5 movies are: The Philadelphia Story, The Master, The Fountain, What About Bob and The Departed.

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