Come round, settle in, and let me tell you a tale, geeks and geekettes. A tale of a time before the Unmentionable Time. Back when the air wasn’t deadly, and theaters were open, and we were free to come and go as we please. A time when the local Alamo Drafthouse, at Albee Square in Brooklyn, in all their wisdom, unleashed director Tom Hooper‘s misguided, horrifying, hilariously sincere and wildly uncomfortable adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s Cats.
I did it, I FUCKING did it. For you, dear readers. And I implore every single one of you, dear readers, to see this movie in the largest crowd, with the largest screen, possible. And please, if you can’t go to the theater already stoned, I demand you go to a theater that serves alcohol, at the very least.
I don’t know — even now, months later — where to begin, nor how to describe this horribly horny fetishist’s wet dream of a movie.
The story…or what can only laughably be called “the story”…focuses on Victoria (newcomer Francesca Hayward, sadly thinking this was her big break), a tabby unceremoniously dumped, in a bag, from a car in the movie’s opening minutes. Then some other creepily human/cat abominations gather around her, singing a song about how tonight…this. Very. Night!…is the Jellicle Ball!
Oooooooh noooo! And just what does that mean to Victoria, this cat that is unfamiliar with cat lore but all the other cats went to little cat school and of course they know what the Jellicle Ball is? Who the hell knows?! But tonight’s the night!
The night for Old Deuteronomy (Dame Judi Dench), the wizened old cat who wears a little fur coat and cat-sized jewelry for some reason, to make the decision as to who among the cat population (…of this maybe 6 block radius somewhere in…London?…) is worthy of going on to be reborn (?) in the Heaviside Layer.
And somewhere among all this word salad that I swear are actual plot points in this insanity, Macavity (Idris Elba, for some reason) is off corrupting (?) other cats, or just plain magically transporting them onto a barge on the River Thames, where the cat Growltiger is at the controls, and portrayed by Ray Winstone, who cannot believe he signed up to do this shit and should probably fire his agent .
Look, there is no amount of drugs or alcohol or anti-psychotics or editing or anything in between that makes this film even remotely watchable or coherent on its own. But I am recommending this to be seen with the largest possible audience, at a screening that encourages laughing and trolling, because this is some of the craziest shit I’ve seen, and I paid money to see (and subsequently own a copy of) Dangerous Men, among other out-there titles.
What can I say to prepare you for Mungojerrie (Danny Collins) and Rumpleteazer (Naoimh Morgan), two house-broken cats who are siblings but you just know they fuck each other nightly, who parade Victoria around a house in the middle of the night, where household objects are both human-sized, and caxt-sized, depending on the shot? How can you possibly mentally steel yourself for the grating James Corden as the rotund Bustopher Jones, who wears a cat-sized tuxedo over his tuxedo-patterned fur, going through garbage, and at one point spitting directly in the face of another man/cat?
What exactly IS Macavity’s plan? For whatever reason, he seems determined to be the one to be chosen to go to the Heaviside Layer, but spends exactly zero percent of screentime being an insufferable asshole, and wearing a little cat-sized trenchcoat and hat.
Then Taylor Swift makes her screen debut as Bombularina, a sultry singing cat who rides a fake moon, singing about God knows what (her’s is probably the only song that isn’t focused on the singer of said song doing whatever it is you are watching them do in the moment), and she’s wearing little cat-sized shoes? And sprinkling a cat-sized jar of catnip on everyone? And then she just floats away and disappears from the movie until the end scene? What possessed the otherwise dignified Sir Ian McKellen to preen and lick himself and get down on his hands and knees and lick from a milk bowl in his only scene?
And then Rebel Wilson‘s scene happens. Jennyanydots is a fat housebroken cat. Much fun is made of her being fat. And stupid. And spoiled. Any maybe Rebel Wilson was in on the the joke, or something? But her shtick ran out LONG before her scene ended…her scene where she has a trained chorus line of human-faced cockroaches doing a song and dance for her on a tiny, bug-sized stage INSIDE of a kitchen sink cabinet? And then she proceeds to eat them as they run screaming?
And then she unzips her fur to reveal some cabaret outfit…that she, in a later scene, unzips to reveal her fur once again? Like, she was wearing her own fur over a cabaret dress that was over her actual fur? And then Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat (played by Steven McRae…why yes. That IS the character’s name. Why do you ask? Why are you crying?)….guess what HE does?!
I have to admit it, Jennifer Hudson is a fine actress (as the audience members continually scream every time she appeared onscreen, “OSCAR WINNER!”), and she absolutely kills “Memories” (which I’d somehow heard and remembered, having never ever seen Cats ever before?)
But she looks fucking hilarious here as Grizabella, looking like someone glued tufts of hair to her face (anyone remember the movie Werewolf from that MST3K episode, and how silly the werewolves looked in the last shot?).
The fact that it’s implied she’s the outcast cat because she’s a little cat prostitute (???), wearing little rags around her little cat/human body, and her nose is constantly running…and she appears in scenes only to be berated and insulted before skulking off in shame –and I swear one of her scenes ended with her tripping into a puddle of mud and just crawling through it and it’s so ridiculous I’m literally laughing writing this– does not do her any favors…
The major major major problem with this movie (aside from how every scene looks like it ended about 4 seconds before all the cats started fucking each other) is how absolutely, earnestly, stupidly, hilariously serious it is. Cats is the Trump Presidency of Oscar bait movies: completely wrongheaded, silly and unaware of how hilariously stupid it looks when it tries to put on Adult Pouty Face and have Serious-Person Time, and just how hilariously it fails at doing that, too.
From frame one, it is an absolute joke, and by the time Grizabella literally floats away in a balloon and into the Heaviside Layer (or maybe just space, where the lack of heat and oxygen will make short work of her. Who knows?
Maybe Old Deuteronomy just devised the Jellicle Ball because she’s secretly a little tiny cat serial killer and wants to see just how far she can take it), everyone was absolutely losing their shit.
The only person in the movie that wasn’t in on the joke was the movie itself; with the score going into a crescendo, and the actors celebrating onscreen, and the audience looking at each other wondering if maybe the carbon monoxide alarms were going off, but maybe we couldn’t hear them?
Hell, I didn’t even get to Jason Derulo‘s manically oversexed Rum Tum Tugger and how absolutely DEVOTED he is to the role…or the break-dancing cats who sometimes have little cat-sized sneakers until they don’t anymore?
Christ, I didn’t even give one WHIFF that there is a magician cat named Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson) who wears a little cat-sized magician’s tuxedo and little cat-sized top-hat…but can’t perform any magic UNTIL HE CAN! There are so…many…things happening all the time in this movie…
When the Unspeakable Time is over and Alamo Drafthouse returns in its physical form, I urge ALL of you to see the Cats Rowdy Screening; the shouts of “Deut!” whenever Old Deuteronomy appears onscreen; the aforementioned “Oscar Winner!” shouts whenever Grizabella appears; the assorted shrieks, gasps, singing, and, yes, screaming and near unstoppable laughter make it worth seeing over and over (my screening, back in January or so, was completely sold out, and every weekend screening had been consistently sold out).
With the right audience, and plenty of alcohol flowing, this film is a trip, the type of which cannot properly be replicated at home. This is a shared traumatic experience that needs to be endured with others, over and over again. Hell, after hunkering down in collective trauma for almost two months, I’m more than happy (and eager) to go experience some collective laughter and insanity (of the good kind). As soon as it gets to the New Normal, and Alamo offers it again, I’ll be right there. Q/5 Cockroach Chorus Lines.
Cats is playing in Hell, your nightmares, and is also streaming on various VOD services…but you know better than to do that to yourself, don’t you? Wait for Alamo…trust me.