December 21st, 2019
Watching a man who once played a Holocaust survivor with complete control over magnetism lick milk out of a bowl and then smush his face against a wooden post is not a sight I will soon forget.
Seeing Cats is not an experience I will soon forget.
But wait: there’s more! I actually mean it. Because despite what everybody is saying, I’ll say something else: I don’t think this is a film that should be dismissed.
Let’s start from the beginning: I actually go way back with Cats. I studied it in high school, and while I legitimately can’t tell you what it’s “about,” I can tell you that it fascinates me, it has perfectly fine (fe-line?) tunes, and one of the most perfect (and heartbreaking) songs of all time.
And, like you, I saw the trailer and said, “WTF.” And, maybe not like you, I lived in the reviews that came out over the weekend. The most imaginatively spewing cauldrons of hate were brewed, and I couldn’t help scooping it up. This supposed dumpster fire was giving me life. And with the recent news that the studio was going to update the film’s effects while it’s currently in theaters, I had to go see it now. So I did. I just finished my screening. And I have some thoughts.
Let’s start with the bad. And there is bad. In fact, a lot of it. For example: you think the people who look like cats look weird? Just WAIT until you see the rats who look like people (which elicited an audible, involuntary “oh what the fuck” from me). Idris Elba, whose cat wears a coat for most of the movie, got me to spit take a Skittle when he took it off, revealing a body that looked human, but 100% nude and without a discernable penis.
There is a long list of Cats-isms that I don’t want to ruin for you, because it is part of the fun. It is jarring, and sometimes physically painful to watch, and makes little to no sense if you make the mistake of thinking about it.
But guess what? I also FELT stuff. And I understood what this adaptation got wrong.
One word: imagination.
No, not that this film has it. Nope. It’s that imagination is what makes this piece work. If you tell me you’re a cat, and you act like a cat, I will wholeheartedly believe that you are a cat. When you visually try (way too hard) to convince me you’re a cat, you lose me.
During the opening scene, as Victoria gets used to her new surroundings and we hear the familiar song of the Jellicle cats, I actually didn’t hate it. It gave me hope — hope that was then clawed and stomped upon and scratched from me for a good hour and a half, until two scenes took me by surprise: Jennifer Hudson’s legendary take on “Memory,” and Mr. Mistoffelees’ life-affirming moment, where he convinces the other cats — and, in turn, me — to believe in him. I teared up both times.
And there’s how Cats remained fascinating for me: it’s not only bad, or only good, nor is anything. It is a dumpster fire; but one that’s tempered by the rain of some real emotion that made seeing it worth something for me.
And you get to watch Gandalf use his tongue to bring milk to his mouth. And that’s the real magic.