Trainwreck. Abomination. Fever dream.
I’ve heard all these words and more used to describe Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ’80s hit.
Viewers described such horrors as cats unzipping their own skin and eating the heads off cockroaches with human faces.
After hearing these things, I wanted more than anything to see this movie.
Miraculously, my dad agreed to go with me.
We got our vanilla popcorn and settled in, woefully unprepared for the viewing experience that followed.
The most common complaint about Cats (2019) has been its off-putting sexuality.
This lasciviousness starts with the opening number, in which the troupe of singing, dancing Jellicle cats serenades attractive newcomer Victoria after she scratches her way out of a canvas bag. (This is not a joke.)
While the actors slink and stretch in their skintight catsuits, Victoria joins actor Robbie “Intense Eye Contact” Fairchild in a very touchy dance.
I kept looking at the cats’ smooth, genital-less forms and wondering why I felt so icky.
Then Fairchild’s hands (er, paws) would brush Hayward’s rib cage and I would recoil as if he’d touched my bare skin.
Maybe the choreography would have felt less charged if cat hands weren’t touching cat bodies with no clothing in between.
Everything in the movie feels sexual without being sexy, pushing the boundaries of the film’s PG rating.
Recall that I saw this movie with my dad.
On New Year’s Day.
Happy New Year’s to me.
I say I was unprepared for this movie.
That’s not completely true.
I was all set for this movie to be weird and bad.
And, truthfully, the first five minutes of slinking human-cat hybrids made my skin crawl.
Then Idris Elba’s Macavity, watching the opening dance from a nearby rooftop, let out an incredulous, “What?”
From that moment on, I felt nothing but joy.
I’m not going to tell you Cats is a great film that makes any type of sense.
I will tell you that I loved it.
Tom Hooper tricked me into loving his movie.
Hooper not only cast hottie Laurie Davidson as my favorite cat, the magical Mr. Mistoffelees; he also wrote a romance between Mistoffelees and Victoria.
The romance is largely implied and doesn’t add that much to the story…which is MY FAVORITE TYPE OF ROMANCE.
Mistoffelees does Nice Guy staples such as digging a lamb shank out of the dumpster for Victoria and rescuing her from a vicious dog.
I was enthralled.
Once the movie had me, I wondered where it was going to take me.
The answer: to weird, weird places.
What can I even say about this movie?
I tried describing it to my mom using weird snippets and nonsense phrases, much like a T. S. Eliot poem.
All I have are questions:
Why were the break-dancing twin cats wearing sneakers?
Were the cats normal-sized cats in a giant world? Or were they tiny cats in a normal world? In either case, why were the mice so small?
Why did Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat and Gus the Theatrical Cat wear clothes while everyone else was naked?
When Bustopher Jones and Macavity took off their clothes, were they naked?
Were Mistoffelees and Victoria about to kiss during his solo number? Do cats kiss?
WHY WAS MISTOFFELEES SO HOT??
How were his ears outside of his hat when his hat didn’t have earholes?
Where can I buy his jacket?
Why did Skimbleshanks tap-dance Growltiger off the plank?
Am I into Skimbleshanks, too?
Does Skimbleshanks run a travel service?
Did Macavity lose his powers at the end of the film?
Most importantly of all:
What am I supposed to do now?
Before you ask, I’ve had worse movie experiences.
On December 19th, I entered my neighborhood theater, trembling with excitement, to watch The Rise of Skywalker.
Two-and-a-half hours later, I walked out completely numb.
I’d watched a movie that should have brought me joy and instead felt hollow.
I tried to dredge up feelings from past viewings of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, movies that made my chest expand with gratitude.
I couldn’t do it.
There was nothing there.
By contrast, Cats flushed any numbness right out of me.
Yes, the movie was weird.
Yes, I had to muffle uproarious laughter several times.
Yes, I was upset when Grizabella beat out Gus the Theatrical Cat for the Jellicle Choice. (Also: why did Victoria have to help Grizabella? And why interrupt “Memory” with a song about ghosts?? Grizabella should have won on her own merit WITHOUT the help of ghosts!)
All that to say…I FELT something.
I felt Hooper’s love for the material in every odd, questionable, or overly-sexy choice.
I felt the power in the strange, synthesized score.
I even felt awe at the actors’ dancing prowess, though distracted by the break-dancing cats’ sneakers.
Leaving me empty is the worst crime a movie can commit.
Unlike The Rise of Skywalker, Cats gave me plenty to think about.
If anyone calls this the “feel-good movie” of the season, they’re lying.
It is, however, the feel-something movie of the year, whether that feeling be horror, hilarity, or repulsion.
Trust me. Go see Cats.
You will believe.