'Cats' Is a Reminder That Modern Life Is Hell

Directed by Tom Hooper

Starring Francesca Hayward, Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson

BY Josiah HughesPublished Dec 19, 2019

As major movie studios continue to reveal themselves as corporate monopolies and technology renders nearly anything possible, we must ask ourselves plenty of philosophical questions. Merch sales and audience testing and all kinds of other data culled from years of spying on the public through their smart devices might suggest that a new movie from a known entity is a good idea, but does that mean it will be good in reality? Is nostalgia enough of a driving force to sustain a blockbuster release? Just because something can be done, should it? But enough about the new Star Wars movie — this is a review of Cats.

Toxoplasma gondii is the name of a microscopic protozoan that thrives in cat stool. This parasite can infect the brains of susceptible humans, causing them to act irrationally or, as some have theorized, ensure that a feline's owner becomes obsessed with it. In other words, some pet owners are hypnotized by their cat's piss and shit, and the protozoan pushes them to fall further in love with their animal. While it's not entirely confirmed, one can't help but think a similar thing has happened with Cats the musical.

Let's not throw out the good with the bad — Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1981 T.S. Elliot adaptation has one hell of a good logo. But other than that, it's a completely nonsensical and endlessly long piece of musical theatre at its most musical theatre-y. Somehow, the entire thing is built around the made-up word "jellicle," a truly disgusting turn of phrase that makes the roof of your mouth feel itchy when you sound it out. The adjective is never defined, but one could go as far as to say that in Cats, "jellicle" is almost, in a way, its own character.

If your brain hasn't been poisoned by its mysterious witchcraft, the musical is completely terrible. But massive swaths of normie weirdos lap it up like lukewarm milk. And now, thanks to Oscar-winner Tom Hooper's dizzying orgy of tap-dancing and CGI, we now get to see what those sick freaks have been gleefully enjoying for decades. Leading up to the film's release, audiences were warned not to equate it with its virally terrible trailer. That's a fair assessment. After all, the trailer has a digestible runtime of two-and-a-half minutes while the movie takes its sweet time, pirouetting with gleeful abandon for two solid hours.

The film is far from seeker sensitive. While so many other media properties have been watered down or at least, you know, explained for the wider audience reached through the medium of cinema, Cats just jumps right into the action. We see the cheesy set pieces, all of which look like a medium price kids' game on Steam, and then an overwhelming number of human-feline hybrids start assaulting us with song.

If you don't already know the lyrics, you will find yourself wishing for subtitles because they're spit quickly through whimsical triplets. The background music is kept at a frustratingly gentle din, making one feel like they're stuck in a dentist waiting room that only plays MIDI muzak tracks with the occasional stanky wah-pedalled Stratocaster, but its relative quietness compared to the vocals does not help one understand what these furry abominations are singing about. The word "jellicle" is really the only thing that sticks. (It appears that T.S. Elliot is responsible for creating this word after hearing his niece attempt to say "dear little cats." This nonsensical term then became the basis for his entire narrative — a glaring monument to nothing. A shrine to meaninglessness, laughing in the face of God.)

But enough about the lyrics — the thing that everyone has latched on to is just how horny these human cats really are, and it really can't be overstated. The entire movie is an unwanted visual feast of A-listers dipped in fur, writhing around and rubbing up on one another. There's purring, there's licking, there's face-fulls of cream. There's Rebel Wilson laying on her back spreadeagle as she plays with her tail, James Corden wiggling around in trash and being force-fed big gulps of liquid and Sir Ian McKellen lapping up drinks from a dish. By the time Taylor Swift swoops in on a reclined moon bed and daintily sprinkles catnip on a room full of submissive pets, one can feel themselves becoming normalized to this strange world. It's the most twisted DeviantArt, presented through the lens of modern daytime talk show celebrity culture.

I wasn't late to my Cats preview screening, but the theatre was packed to the brim with acolytes, none of whom left a moment before the whole cursed affair was finished. As a result, the only seat left was in the front row of the cinema. This added a level of seasickness to the whole viewing experience, but it also allowed me to really examine the computer-generated animations. Some performers, like Dame Judi Dench, appeared to be wearing real-life cat makeup. Others, like lead Francesca Hayward, looked to have hovering faces that were deepfaked into cat costumes. Still, there was one thing that every human face onscreen had in common: whenever they weren't smiling or singing, we could see their soul begging for escape from this ungodly hybrid, straining in anguish as it tried to survive in a situation so inherently wrong.

Truly, nothing happens in Cats. The beasts wriggle and writhe and spit quirky poetry that would make a substitute drama teacher giggle. But narratively the film is seemingly about a long list of cats that introduce themselves via songs that are all at least 50 percent too long. Then, the Jennifer Hudson cat floats away in a hot-air balloon and we're probably supposed to feel sad or happy or something.

I didn't think the film had left much of an impression on me until I arrived home to be greeted by Woody, my own tabby cat. He's got a thing for me, and demands my attention whenever I return from a trip outside of our apartment. But as he was cuddling up to me, I couldn't help but feel repulsed by his presence. What sort of sick thoughts are going through this little freak's head? Does he dream of tap-dancing and grinding up on a furrified Jason Derulo? Does he use the word jellicle? So thanks, Cats, for making me resent my own cat.


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