“Cats” fails as a dense, nonsensical disaster

Image by Seth Moriarty

On Dec. 20, I saw “Cats” on its opening night. I could not wait. Although maybe I was one of the only people who felt this way because the theater was not more than half full. For some reason, the audience was primarily people over 60.

“Cats” is a film directed by Oscar winner Tom Hooper, based on a Tony winning musical by Tony winner Andrew Lloyd Webber. Which itself is based on a book of poems by Nobel prize winner T. S. Eliot, and its existence serves as definitive proof that awards aren’t always indicative of skill. The film features the talents of Jason Derulo, Taylor Swift, Dame Judi Dench, and Sir Ian McKellan. 

“Cats” cannot be contained to one review. Each frame could inspire an entirely new field of study dedicated solely to its dissection. For example, in an easy-to-miss line in the opening song, there is a  mention of “rabbinical cats,” implying that multiple cats attended rabbinical school.

I will try to summarize the premise of this fever dream as succinctly as I can, but it is a Herculean task. We start with our protagonist, Victoria (Francesca Hayward), tossed onto the streets of London. There, she runs into a tribe of cats that call themselves “Jellicles.” These Jellicle Cats will compete at the Jellicle Ball to become the Jellicle Choice, and at this point in the film, my eyes are glazing over. The Jellicle Choice goes to the “Heavyside Layer” to begin a new life. Are they dying? It sure sounds like it. But the “Heavyside Layer” is a real scientific term used to describe a layer of the atmosphere. The Choice is also sent up to the sky in a hot air balloon, so is the Choice literally ascending to the Heavyside layer? We never really know.

Idris Elba’s Macavity serves as the film’s antagonist, kidnapping all the other Jellicle Candidates to ensure he secures the prize. He magically teleports these candidates to a barge that serves as his headquarters, because these horrifying cat creatures are capable of magic. The bulk of the movie is spent introducing various candidates, with Jennifer Hudson showing up every now and then as Grizabella to cry and sing the same song, “Memory.” She is acting so hard in this movie that you start to genuinely worry that she thinks her performance will land her an Oscar. 

There are times where, after your brain has become numb to everything that has assaulted it, you have a moment of clarity. Maybe it is when you notice Jennifer Hudson’s snot trail approaching her mouth, or when Rebel Wilson unzips her skin. You realize that this is a real thing that you are now watching. It is a distinctly unnerving feeling that reminds one of an existential crisis. It is dense, yet empty. It is a black hole. 

In all honesty, I am sad this movie failed. It was awful, but at the very least it was brave enough to give people what they never knew they needed: terrifying cat-gremlins that are either small enough to walk between an iron gate or large enough to fit three-fourths of the way into human shoes. 

Luckily, “Cats” is destined to become a cult classic and join the likes of “The Room” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” In fact, it already has. In mid-January, multiple sing-along showings of “Cats” were hosted in Toronto, Canada. The theater chain Alamo Drafthouse has been offering “Rowdy Screenings” of “Cats” across the country. “Cats” may have died at the box office, but it is bound to be rewarded with a new life among thrill seekers and the elderly alike. 

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