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A Review of Cats (2019) by Riley Gray: An Ineffable Catastrophe

Riley Gray
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A Review by Riley Gray: An Ineffable Catastrophe and an unforgettable experience


The concept of adapting a musical stage-play into a big budget, blockbuster is not a new one. When done well, musicals can effectively capture a range of emotional reactions from the audience, ranging from laughter to tears. Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper is no stranger to the musical genre of film. His film, Les Miserables, was adapted from the 1980 stage play by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel from which derived from Victor Hugo’s epic historical novel of the same name. Les Miserables was met with wide acclaim, so when I discovered that the man behind the thought-provoking and beautifully performed film was now adapting Andrew Lloyd Webber’s play, Cats, I was more than a little confused. Why was the man behind such masterful, character, and setting driven films like Les Miserables and The King’s Speech adapting a play nearly devoid of true characterization and plot cohesion? After seeing 2019’s Cats, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because Hooper has gone completely out of his mind.

The Plot and Cast:

    Throughout the story, the word, ineffable, is stated motifically and I can think of no better word to describe this film’s plot, or lack of one that makes sense. In summary, The film begins with Victoria (Francesca Hayward), a cat who has been thrown onto the street. She is immediately greeted by the Jellicles, A group of Alley cats, who takes her in. The clan of anamorphic cat-humanoids explain to her, through song, that they are preparing for a magical event in which all the cats in London compete for the chance to go to the “Heavyside Layer and be born anew.” We are then introduced to Mcavity, a villainous cat who uses magic to steal and hide the other worthy contestants. From this point on the film devolves into a psychedelic montage of songs akin to the fever dreams of an alcoholic vagrant. We meet a variety of different cats who sing and dance before Mcavity arrives and surreptitiously steals them away and hides them on a barge in the middle of The River Thames. The film is almost entrancing in its madness. I was afflicted with periodic waves of crazed laughter throughout the entire runtime, a result of just how awkwardly malformed and unnecessary this movie truly was. I believed I audibly asked why a multitude of times in the theater. At one Point, an overweight cat (played by Rebel Wilson) eats cockroaches with human faces; the seem would fit more accurately into the early work of David Lynch. There is another specifically disturbing scene about half way through the picture. In the scene, the music dies down and all the cats begin to meow in a chant-like ritualistic way, they then bend down and begin a unified convulsive shake that quite literally made me retract backwards in my chair and chortle loudly like a schizophrenic in a psychiatric ward.

The acting is probably the best aspect of Cats. Everyone gives a relatively auspicious performance, from a vocal standpoint, most notably Jenifer Hudson in the movie’s finale. Unfortunately, Cats’ general aesthetic and appearance are too dream-like and surreal to accurately assess the performances of its cast in any way that is not vocal. Everyone on the set seems to move as if they are about to have a strange fetishistic orgy of some form. This will no doubt bring the film into a cult status with certain sexual subversives but to many others, including myself, the movements of these characters, and the sheer holistic weirdness that is taking place only led me into a state of deep disturbance.

Technical Aspects:

One could pontificate that one of the most important things when filming a movie is what the movie looks like. The setting and color-scheme of a cinematic experience should amount to a certain feel and bring the audience into the diegesis. The creative world of Cats seems to eschew from this common belief and, instead, look like a decidedly horrific nightmare. The first face I saw on the screen was that of Robbie Fairchild; his face was superimposed onto an anamorphic cat body that crawled, on all four of its limbs, towards me, leading my mouth to gape open in both horror and bemusement. I could not turn away from whatever it was that I was seeing and my stunned expression was pervaded through the entirety of the film’s opening musical number. The visual effects and motion-capture work that embody Cats are absolutely horrendous; it is the movie’s biggest flaw. Everyone moves in an incredibly unnatural way, even for humanoid-cat-folk. This flaw also becomes the biggest attractive in a caustic manner because its prevalence and constant absurdity drown out all other aspects of the film.

The motion-capture is so immensely ineffectual. For example, you can see the outlines of the characters' feet unnaturally glide around the digitally animated world as if the characters were all incorporeal beings. The cats in Cats float through thin air and bounce like rubber, no doubt due to the use of wires. The most egregious technical insult is found in the animation of those background dancing. The sub-characters haven’t seemed to be administered with the same level of rendering and their movements are poorly edited. In other words, they don't mesh with the same tempo that the main, foreground, stars dance to, leaving an unpolished and frenetic look that only causes the already, far-too-bizarre-for-comfort film to feel more abstract and trance-like. All of these issues lead to a cinematic experience that is overtly-flawed and unforgettable for all of the wrong reasons.

Themes and Meanings:

    I remember seeing a stage-production of Cats in fifth grade and being incredibly bored with the play because it lacked substance. I, unfortunately, accredited this to my age but, in hindsight, I should have trusted eleven year-old me because he was absolutely right. This movie is a mosaic of nonsensical insanity. I left the theater feeling emotionally accosted and slightly brain-damaged. If I were to say that there is an exact theme (and I truly don’t believe there really is), I’d say it's accepting differences or seeking unity and friendship with your surrounding cohorts. The makers of both the play and the film seem to be grasping at straws to express something that isn't absolutely inane within the subtext of the dialogue; they, of course, fail to do so.

Conclusion and Grade:

I honestly believe the movie, Cats, to be something absolutely loathsome. I haven't seen a film this awful or ill-advised since Tommy Wiseau’s magnum opus, The Room. None of the film seems as though it is anything other than a group of highly-skilled performers, dancing, and singing, in a green-room like imbeciles. I can only explain this phenomenon’s ignominious existence as a result of the talented being seduced by the coercive spell of a mad cult-leader who has convincingly offered eternal life to those who can make children cry and the elderly believe that they are beginning to suffer from early signs of dementia. The movie is a warped failure that will lead all movie-goers to regurgitate their popcorn both out of disgust and from Hooper’s audacity. I’m sure in his megalomania, the reaction to his new movie is quite a blow and I’m sure that many of the cast-members gawked and shook their heads, solemnly, at the finished product in a similar way to how I did. I feel sorry for the selective group of thespians who were expecting anything else out of an adaptation of Cats, not because Tom Hooper’s variation of the play is a missed opportunity but because it's an adaptation of Cats! Some theater-dramas don’t translate. Its existence in our realm is ridiculous. Obviously, this receives a grade of F for being ineffably horrendous. In conclusion, don’t see Cats unless you want to see something incredibly and uniquely terrible. F-

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