Cats (2019) is the true meaning of Christmas.
Also, before anyone asks, I’m not a furry— I’m just horny for cinema.
This movie is a nightmare in the most literal sense of the word— there’s no plot, just a loosely connected sequence of disturbing imagery which ends abruptly. I feel like I’m not even doing a review, just a psychoanalysis of whatever the fuck Tom Hooper saw on his latest DMT trip. Here goes nothing, I guess:
In the smoldering wreckage of what I can only assume is modern day Cleveland, Ohio, a car pulls up to an alleyway. A woman exits and carelessly tosses a bag over the fence. The noise alerts dozens of cat-human-hybrid monstrosities, who emerge out of the shadows. Out of the bag comes another ‘cat’ (I guess you could say the cat’s out of the curiosity- wait fuck). They perform an elaborate musical number, introducing themselves as ‘Jellicle cats,’ and going on to list their defining characteristics, without actually explaining what they are or how they got there. The newcomer introduces herself as ‘Victoria’; the rest of the Jellicles gatekeep her. They explain that cats, having derived their culture from the Romans in an attempt to preserve Judeo-Christian values, actually have 3 names: a praenomen, nomen, and cognomen.
The Jellicles explain that they are immortal beings, doomed to suffer eternally through an endless sequence of musical numbers. A singular glimmer of hope comes in the form of the annual Jellicle ball, where one lucky cat is selected to die, finally granted reprieve from the desolate hellscape that is Cats (2019). One by one, Victoria is introduced to some of the other Jellicles, including: Bustopher Jones, who’s fat; Jennyanydots, who’s also fat; Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, who break into houses; Mr. Mistoffelees, who’s horny and does magic; and Macavity, who’s evil and does magic better, but is also considerably less horny.
Victoria also meets Grizabella whom the other cats bully for wearing a dumb outfit or something. Their leader, Old Deuteronomy, shows up, and the Jellicle ball commences. The ball is basically just a talent show where each of the cats says their name a bunch of times like Pokemon. Macavity kidnaps the contestants one by one, and then asks Old Deuteronomy to pick him since he’s the only one left. She says no, and Macavity kidnaps her too. The remaining Jellicles look to Mr. Mistoffelees for help. They sing at him until he’s able to magic Old Deuteronomy back. Victoria sees Grizabella outside and asks her to sing for them. After a moving solo performance, Old Deuteronomy picks her, and all the Jellicles stone Grizabella to death, lottery style.
The movie ends with Old Deuteronomy breaking the 4th wall to lecture the audience. She remarks that you should always pet cats, make an effort to stand up straight, clean your room, and never, under any circumstances, use someone’s preferred pronouns. Also something about IQ and cat dominance hierarchies? I was kinda zoned out. The end.
**Ok last minute fan-theory even though I fucking hate this movie: it’s mentioned that the ‘re-birthing process’ of the Heaviside layer causes someone to be reborn with no memories. Could it be possible that Victoria, who arrives with no explanation and seems to remember nothing, is actually the reincarnation of the previous Jellicle ball winner? Actually, nevermind, I don’t care.
Cats is entirely comprised of musical numbers—all of the plot, all of the exposition, and all of the character development (or lack thereof) happens during these sequences. In addition to being insufferable (it’s like trying to hang out with a group of theater kids— sorry, theater kids), it also highlights what I would consider this movie’s biggest technical failure (aside from the movie itself): the sound mixing. Despite the supposed importance of lyrics, it was almost impossible to understand what the cats were saying in basically all of the ensemble numbers. Not only did their voices not harmonize well, but the vocals would disappear into the mix entirely. I guess not even the movie cared about people understanding it?
As to the music itself… ehhh. I haven’t seen the musical Cats, so I can’t speak to how faithful it was adapted to screen, but if this is actually what it’s like, then yikes. Every single song had basically identical structure, and despite some of the songs having 4+ beat switches, they somehow all managed to be really boring. It is kind of ironic that the best piece in the movie was “Memories,” given how forgettable everything else was.
I think what really did this movie in was the monotony—if there had been any sort of variation, it would maybe have been tolerable and not felt 6 hours long. Unfortunately, they couldn’t really have ‘dialogue,’ a consequence of lacking…
For a movie where each character has a distinctive name (or three), gimmick, and aesthetic, they were all basically the same thing. I don’t know why they even needed such a diverse cast list, when they probably could’ve gotten one actor to play every single Cat. No one does anything, the protagonist is barely there enough to even count as ‘passive,’ and nothing ends up mattering. As far as I can tell, this movie has barely any conflict, zero tension, and absolutely no purpose. The most generous interpretation I can give is that it’s a modern Un Chien Andalou, some kind of surrealist art piece that’s meant to be experienced rather than explained.
There are only like three redeeming performances in the entire movie. Jennifer Hudson can sing pretty well. Ian McKellan is good as ‘old man doing theater.’ And Idris Elba, who’s basically the only person that I think actually understood the tone of this movie, has about the right amount of camp. Everyone else is just some strictly worse variant of one of these three characters.
Pretty good. No complaints.
Oh, actually, there was one thing. As my friend Addison pointed out, there are a lot of static closeups in this movie. Made for kind of a boring watch.
Other than that, totally fine.
Why does this movie exist? Why did I watch it?
(That being said, I might fuck around and buy this film on blu-ray, then tell people I have cats at home. Sorry grandma.)
Good for: Dogs, since whatever the fuck a ‘Jellicle cat’ is, they apparently aren’t
Bad for: People invested in the production of live-action cat girl movies, since I don’t think anyone’s gonna have another go at it for a while
**Edit: My friend Jacob reminded me how numbers work, so I updated the rating