“Cats are not dogs.” -Dame Judi Dench
I wish I could end my review there because there is nothing I can say, or ever will in my writing career, that is as powerful as Oscar winner and stage legend Dame Judi Dench looking deeply into my eyes with her Digital Fur Technology-ed face and tell me that no, despite what you may think, cats are not dogs. But let us not dwell on this mind blowing information that will surely make its way to best line readings in cinema history.
I will start by telling you what Cats is about, which would be incredibly hard if I didn’t spend an hour reading this Twitter thread before seeing the film. The film makes zero effort to inform its audience of what in the name of musical theatre is going on here at any given moment. Will it help you to experience the film better if you know what’s happening? No, I think not. I think the only way to experience Cats the way it was meant to be experienced is to go in without knowing anything. But alas it is my duty to inform you. There is something called The Jellicle Ball and a group of special cats (it is never explained why they are special) called Jellicle Cats gather for this ball every year to decide which cat gets to go to somewhere called the Heaviside Layer to start a new Jellicle life.
In short, a group of insane cats, led by the main cat in charge Dame Judi Dench, decide which cat is going to die and go to cat heaven. They are all super horny about it.
Yes, Cats is, in essence, a horny film. But not a good kind of horny like Phantom Thread, or Taylor Swift’s Reputation album. It’s the kind of horny that you experience when you walk into your living room to find your cat humping a pillow and decide to call your vet to schedule an appointment. These cats, who are humans but also cats, are mostly naked, spend all their time walking around like seductive cats and keep rubbing themselves on each other, or on the floor. In what could only be described as the worst horny scene in cinema, evil Macavity, the Idris Elba cat who spent the whole film wearing a dashing coat, takes it off and his naked furry body is so terrifying to witness that if your audience does not audibly gasp in horror, I suggest you leave the theatre immediately.
There is a scene in Cats that I can only explain by comparing it to Gaspar Noe’s Climax. Bombalurina, played by the greatest living artist of our time Taylor Swift, ascends from sky as she sprinkles catnip onto our beloved Jellicle cats to get them high. All of the cats go batshit crazy high on that catnip and start dancing around Taylor Swift the Cat. I have no idea why she is doing this or what it achieves besides competing to become the new defining scene of New Extremist movement. But I, a member of the Swiftie crowd, enjoyed it immensely. After all we all would want Taylor Swift, our greatest living artist, to make us high and watch her dance with her cute cat ears.
What is supposed to be the emotional highlight scene of the film is the great Jennifer Hudson (playing a cat named Grizabella who is shunned from the society for a reason that is, of course, not explained) singing “Memory”. It is an emotional song that gets you in the heart and gives you chills if you listen to it without any image because well, Jennifer Hudson’s voice can just do that no matter what she sings. But once combined with her digital fur technology face, it is impossible to take it seriously. And to make it worse, director Tom Hooper made the choice to shoot it exactly like he shot Anne Hathaway singing “I Dreamed A Dream” in his other awful musical adaptation, Les Miserables. Watching Hathaway sing her pain away in close-up was good, but when it’s a human pretending to be a cat who is wearing acrylic nails, it becomes the worst SNL sketch you’ve ever seen.
Years ago when I watched Rob Marshall’s Nine, I had a horrifying thought: If Daniel Day-Lewis really quits acting, this will be his last role on big screen. A similarly horrifying thought fell upon me after Cats: If Dame Judi Dench never acts again, one of her last words on big screen will be “Cats are not dogs.” For that, Tom Hooper should be banned from directing.
At the end of the day all you need to know is, these are people, but they are cats.