Every generation has its signature so-bad-it’s-good movie: Before there was The Room, there was Showgirls, then Plan 9 From Outer Space. This week, The McGill Tribune decided to investigate Cats, the newest addition to this canon.
A real cat-astrophe
One cat takes a couple of attempts to launch Bustopher Jones, performed by top-billed James Corden in one of two fat-shaming roles, the other from Rebel Wilson, into a garbage can so he can eat. It doesn’t work: Corden lands on the rim of the garbage can, and squarely on where his human genitals would be. It hurts, obviously, and it is played for laughs, because the film loves focussing the camera on crotches. Director Tom Hooper’s Cats movie is surprisingly and incredibly sexualized, usually to its detriment. The characters give longing looks, sidle up to, and nuzzle each other far too often.
Hooper’s bizarre directorial decision to use the same shaky camerawork he employed in his 2012 adaptation of Les Miserables often makes the work feel like a nature documentary, minus the David Attenborough narration. However, unlike the other 2019 musical nature documentary The Lion King, Cats does not depict anything resembling a feline on screen. The computer-generated fur in Hooper’s film is patchy and incomplete: Dame Judi Dench, whose lazy performance suggests that her check must have cleared prior to shooting the film, wears her wedding ring on her visible human hands. When antagonist cat Macavity (Idris Elba) removes his fur—yes, many cats have fur coats on top of, well, fur coats—to reveal a six-pack, the audience gasped. Sure, Elba is handsome—a key factor for those suggesting he play James Bond—but his furry body is more like Frankenstein’s Monster than a suave British spy.
Ultimately, Cats is an absolute trainwreck. The choosing of the Jellicle Choice—the winning cat of what appears to be a singing competition—is one of the major plot points of the film. The winning cat is floated up to the Heaviside Layer, which is the film world’s version of Heaven. Despite these references to paradise, the film presents something more hellish.
Cats is purr-fect
Cats is a movie that, arguably, should never have existed. However, seeing that Universal and Andrew Lloyd Weber decided to curse Tom Hooper with turning the infamous Broadway show into a feature film, the director did absolutely everything in his power to make sure that his Cats was the best it could possibly be. In the end, he ended up creating one of the most fascinating movies that I have ever seen.
Even when performed onstage, Cats is already a horribly awkward thing to watch: The show is comprised of two and a half hours of spandex-wearing actors introducing themselves to the audience as they all compete to be the next cat to die and be reborn. Hooper’s movie is strongest when it fully embraces this awkwardness. In the best scene of the movie, we see Skimbleshanks, played by Australian ballerino Steven McRae, lead a row of other cats as they tap dance on a railway line towards King’s Cross station, making for an absolutely delightful musical number. However, the movie also has startling moments of self-awareness where it acknowledges how embarrassing the subject matter is. This leads Hooper to make bold creative choices to distract the audience from the singing furries, such as making Jason Derulo waterboard James Cordon with CGI champagne. These scenes are incredibly disturbing, lending Cats the same horrifying energy reminiscent of a middle school’s theatre production.
As a result, Cats remains engaging throughout its entire 109 minute runtime, which cannot be said of many films. Watching Cats is like being unable to look away from a five-car pileup on the side of the highway. It’s degenerate, ugly to look at, and will haunt me for weeks to come.