Sunday, March 7, 2021
Arts + Culture Movies Review: ‘Cats’ is very much like you

Review: ‘Cats’ is very much like you

A year—scratch that, a decade—in fervent feline obsession culminates in a cinematic cataclysm, giving us pause.


You’ve heard of several kinds of cat
And my opinion now is that
You should need to interpreter to understand our character
You’ve learned enough to take the view
That cats are very much like you

Unlike you, my cat does not care about the movie Cats. Likewise, she would not have cared about the rise of the celebrity internet cat in 2013, when I wrote a cover story for the Bay Guardian on the subject. (The article will be remembered by its iconic original artwork, depicting the cats in the poker dog stance by Jen Oaks.) In the interest of stoking her interest in her fellow felines, I tried to get her to look at photos of Lil Bub on my smart phone. She went back to sleep.

In contrast, cat culture weighs on me heavily. For years I have had a plug-in called Make America Kittens Again installed on my laptop. It changes all photos of Donald Trump to photos of smol cats, a far better image to repeat endlessly in one’s subconsciousness. Others have gone further with such attempts at catification, bettering koala bears, chonky seals, and even baguettes with pleasing kitty faces.

Cat 1, Sportball 0 at New York’s MetLife stadium in November. Image via NY Post

Felines both on-screen and -off were balm for our whipsawed 2010s psyches. A cat running across a football field in a crowded stadium elicited endless playback and contented fist pumps. Julian Assange’s cat Michi reminded us of the suffering borne by those close to powerful men. The internet is made of cats, one for every emotion and life situation, their glistening, tear-filled meme eyes a reflection of even our most dolorous moments.

Such is my respect for cats that I took the backlash to director Tom Hooper’s “digital fur technology”-roiled film adaptation of Cats personally. Every snide review, every stupidly dramatic Twitter gasp over the low realism of the movie’s visuals made me all the more loyal to a movie I’d never seen.

This is harsh. But the worst were those who admitted their ignorance of the film’s theatrical source material. You think mediocre productions run for 36 consecutive years in Japan? You think bad songs get covered by Barry Manilow and Barbara Streisand? You thought you could handle drugs and DFT at the same time? Did you even consider that the cat heaven Heaviside layer is an actual place? You thought, you thought.

Granted, in the movie theater I wanted nothing so much as for Cats to be over. There is no dramatic arc to the movie. The protagonist is named Victoria the White Cat, she is played by lovely, wide-eyed, British ballet dancer Francesca Hayward, who is dull as hell. Cats features hundreds of cockroaches who are spurred into a dance routine by Rebel Wilson’s character. Those cockroaches have the face of a single actress, whose name is Abigayle Honeywill.

I realize now that I will see Cats again and again. It is too wonderfully disrespectful of good cinema, too thrillingly cavalier with the career of Abigayle Honeywell. It was famously finished at the last minute with tons of hilarious tech and consistency errors, leaving many to wonder if Judi Dench’s Deuteronomy had not married another cat. They shipped another copy of the movie to theaters days after it was premiered! A glorious mess. I look forward to its midnight showings at $5 movie houses in 10 years. 

Everyone moans and groans about originality and when something truly freakish, some real bizarre CGI cat people come along, they cannot hang. How does Judi Dench feel? Did you know that some think she faked an Achilles tendon injury to excuse herself from playing Grizabella and Jennyadots in the original 1981 West End production, before making her triumphant return as a trans cat?

Now me, I thought the way ears and tails swayed impishly were a real crutch for a cast that seemed terrified to admit to what their agents had signed them onto.

I realize that we do not love cats because they are freakish. We love them because we see ourselves in their glamorous, lovable, minute pursuits. The monstrous 2019 Cats attempts to capitalize on our silliness in this respect and the obsession that drives our constant clicks in search of meow. In so doing, Cats causes us to feel our stupidity far too sharply. If an errant view of Macavity aka Idris Alba’s CGI posterior elicits a shudder, what dignity can be hoped for among the rest of us?

Years ago, I went to a feline-themed sex party. In a room full of moaning human beings in cat drag, I felt lost. At what I had previously felt to be height of my moroseness, a few people started meowing. Like wildfire, it spread quickly to every corner of the mat-covered room. We are not cats, I whispered, frantically putting on my coat, we are not cats.

The Cat Pack has begun to die. This year, the terminus of Lil Bub and Grumpy Cat reminded us that the reason we loved them in the first place had to do with severe physical conditions that made them unlikely to live as long as our wild affection for their tiny furry bodies. The robust, bellicose Colonel Meow preceded them in 2014. His owner ghoulishly continued to run his social media for years in the first person, perhaps unwilling to let us bear the full brunt of Meow’s passing.

A new hero rises. Painting of Smudge the Cat by Redditor Colin1023

As time marches on, we will need to find more cat heroines, if only due to our widely variant life expectancies. Smudge the Cat is our current favorite, snarling over a plate of greens with a face of startling resistance. 

Those of us who are honest about our cat fixation, cognizant and appreciative of the profound havoc that feline-carried Toxoplasmosis gondii has wrecked on our priorities, may live to find bravery in the 2019 Cats. Every cat has three names and if you are lucky, you may know one of them. Those who aren’t ready to see humanity inserted into their cat videos should go sit with men who only watch POV porn because seeing another dude’s face while jacking it makes you gay. 

Look this uncanny meld of cat and human in its furry face, the mincing paw-feet steps and neck nuzzling supplantation of the kiss. The Heaviside Layer has all the logistical clarity of the concept of the beyond in many a two-footed religion, and Judi Dench’s closing lines provide as much emotional conclusion as we are likely to get from the end of the 20-teens. Before you lies the hard-to-unsee embodiment of humanity’s 21st century internet cat mind meld. Here we have a film whose sloppy, Hollywood and market-driven reflection of felinity may be more ugly and honest than any thought powered by too much time on the internet, alone. We are not cats, but we may well be Cats.

Caitlin Donohue
Caitlin Donohue grew up in the Sunset and attended Jefferson Elementary School. She writes about weed, sex, perreo, and other methods of dismantling power structures. Her current center of operations is Mexico City.

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