Before I start writing what I thought about ‘Cats,’ let me quote a verse from T.S. Elliot’s ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.’
“Before a Cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend,
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream;
And you might now and then supply
Some caviare, or Strassburg Pie,
Some potted grouse, or salmon paste —
He’s sure to have his personal taste.
(I know a Cat, who makes a habit
Of eating nothing else but rabbit,
And when he’s finished, licks his paws
So’s not to waste the onion sauce.)
A Cat’s entitled to expect
These evidences of respect.
And so in time you reach your aim,
And finally call him by his name.”
I am sure there will be a lot of people who will hate on Tom Hooper’s film version of the Andrew Lloyd Weber’s show. And I could be inclined in joining them. After all, it isn’t my favorite show in the world, and probably the one I like the least in the Lloyd Weber’s canon. The original Broadway show is a plotless mess, and I still wonder how it became a hit. But I can also list a list of things that’s good about it – it ushered in a whole new style of big bombastic theater that permeated in the 80s, and it has a slew of great songs, and one that is very memorable. So I don’t think the film deserves the hate. But does it?
Hooper probably didn’t know where to start. well, how about an A-list cast? The one assembled here worked very hard, and with some mixed results. I particularly marveled at Ian McKellan’s ‘Gus The Cat.’ Just look at him licking and gnawing and you know he took this role seriously and with a little wink. Dame Judi Dench need only ti give a glance as Old Deuteronomy and there is so much depth in it – that’s a real actress in there, effortless. However, the heart and soul of the show is Grizabella, and I truly disliked Jennifer Hudson’s take – she spends the whole movie in one emotion – forlorn – and her singing of the iconic song is so warbled and overwrought that all feeling is drained from it. Rebel Wilson felt like a young woman thrust into this with no idea what she is doing. And Taylor Swift? I kind of like her Bombalurina, and her ten or so minutes of screen time is worth it.
But what to make of the film as a whole? People who are calling it strange probably never saw it on stage. The premise is strange, but I think its strangeness is part of its original charm. Hooper adds a new character here, a cat named Victoria, to kind of organize the narrative mess, but I think that’s where it went wrong. He should have embraced the absurdity of the piece. Hell, he should have celebrated it and amped up its weirdness. By trying to make the show ‘conform,’ he ruined it. As a film, I it’s just a mess, but the beautiful mess it could have been.