There is life before Cats and life after Cats.
For months now I have been dreading the idea of seeing Cats. The trailers were horrifying. The musical never appealed to me, and when I attempted to watch the filmed version of the play I fell asleep. As a lifelong fan of the theatre, it’s the one play/musical that I have always detested. I figured that I would never find joy in a film adaptation. Yet a cast that includes Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, and Jennifer Hudson, directed by Tom Hooper? I’m intrigued. Plus, as someone who writes about films, and obsesses over titles nominated for awards, I knew I had to see this film.
What I was not expecting was to find any legitimate joy from the experience of seeing this film. Yes, it’s horrifying at times. Yes, the CGI for the characters is occasionally painstakingly terrible. But it’s the type of film that is so ridiculous and insane that you find yourself enjoying the madness within. Every moment of pure insanity just caused more glee as I looked at the screen wondering how this movie could ever be made. The image of children dressed as CGI mice, Rockette style cockroaches, James Corden playing a Cat version of himself, Taylor Swift’s face floating around the body of someone that is clearly not her in a CGI cat suit. It’s all a beautiful disaster that you can’t help but watch and snicker at.
Remarkably there are some solid moments in the film, and a message that does make the film have something to stand on outside of its ridiculousness. The story, if you’re unaware, is about cats all fighting for the chance to be given a new life by the cat Old Deuteronomy (Dench). At the end of the night Deuteronomy will send one cat into the heavens to be reborn. We explore this world through the eyes of Victoria (Francesca Hayward) and learn that amidst the cats yearning to be reborn is the evil and magical Macavity (Elba), who is attempting to kidnap and kill his competition. As Victoria and the other cats evade Macavity, we also meet Grizabella (Hudson), a cat that was previously tricked and used by Macavity, and now lives in the gutters, dreaming of being loved again.
At the end of the film, Victoria helps push Grizabella into the spotlight. In doing so Grizabella conveys to Old Deuteronomy all her feelings of loss and pain through the song “Memory.” Deuteronomy then picks Grizabella as the Jellicle Cat that will be given a new life. The exchange and the connection between Deuteronomy and Grizabella in the musical number and immediately after is powerful and beautiful. The entire sequence gives everything some sort of meaning, despite the madness that surrounds it all. It’s a moment of one woman who has been used and abused by a man she trusted, and then outcast by those around her for it, looking to another woman and begging for a chance at something better. And in response Deuteronomy, in a beautiful moment between Hudson and Dench, says yes, Grizabella will be the one to move onto a new life.
There’s a heaviness to the scene that could have easily been lost, one that demands the strength of two performers like Dench and Hudson. It’s something that could easily be overlooked in any other film this crazy, but somehow, in all the fur and madness, Tom Hopper makes it work. The film slowly begins to shed the overbearing madness as it moves towards the final act, to say, yes this is all crazy, but it can be fun and beautiful at times. It’s still insane and there are bits that will haunt me forever, but by the end of the film there are enough good and entertaining moments that I honestly can say I left the film satisfied.
Cats isn’t a perfect film, and it has flaws in the delivery of its story, the pacing, the CGI, and plenty of other elements. Yet it has a charm to its madness that makes it something entertaining. It’s honestly a fun ride that will make you laugh, squirm, and maybe even cry. Time will likely be good to Cats as it likely will become a cult classic along the lines of The Room. But for now, it’s honestly not the worst way to spend a couple hours with people you love and can laugh with.
Cats is currently playing in theaters. You can also check out Eric’s review here!