I smoked a joint and watched “Cats” (2019).
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures. Design by Elisabeth Oster.
As I’m sure you, The Reader, are well aware, it’s been a pretty rough couple of weeks. A national epidemic is sweeping the nation. Restaurants have closed, universities have gone online, and in some states, like mine, you are required to stay in your homes unless absolutely necessary. With all the pandemonium going on, my anxiety levels have been through the roof. So I did the one thing I thought would help me feel better.
I smoked a joint and watched “Cats” (2019).
Now, I know this is not a new concept. Seth Rogen just live-tweeted his experience of getting high and watching “Cats.” Regardless, this has been a pipe dream (haha) of mine since the first trailer for “Cats” was released, and I feel as though Rogen, while encapsulating the confusion and horror I felt upon viewing, missed some of the meatier stuff. As a matter of fact, I feel like many reviews skated over some things that I found to be incredibly noteworthy.
I am not going to delve too deep into the plot of “Cats” because frankly, I did not understand it. Throughout the movie, they throw around terms like “Jellicle” and “Heaviside Layer” and at no point do they explain what those terms mean. They act like you’re supposed to know, but you don’t unless you scour the internet for fandom interpretations and 1939 poetry books. I thought this air of mystery might be a metaphor pertaining to the aloof personalities of cats, but it has occurred to me I may be reading too much into a movie that features Cat Jason Derulo thrusting his Cat Junk in the air.
The basic rundown is this—Victoria, the main character (and also the only character with a regular name) gets tossed out by her human owner. She lands with the Jellicle Cats, who sing her a song about Macavity the Mystery Cat, warning her to stay away from him because he has magical powers. She then meets Old Deuteronomy, an old cat who has the power to select one of the cats to go up the Heaviside Layer and be reborn as a new cat with a better life. Each cat who wants to be reborn has to do a song and dance number about themselves. Macavity wants to die so badly that he keeps kidnapping the performing cats until only he is left. Old Deuteronomy essentially tells him to fuck off and selects Grizabella, a sickly cat who has been cast out by the Jellicle Cats for associating with Macavity, to be reborn. She is sent away in an air balloon and disappears into the sky.
I think the most important thing to note, before we get into literally everything else, is that the CGI is not that great. The movements of the cat people were weird and jerky. They didn’t really move like cats, but they also didn’t really move like people. I think had I been sober, this would have been more forgivable, but I spent the first twenty minutes of the film terrified because I felt like I was witnessing some eldritch abomination’s attempt to do song and dance numbers. In my notes, I wrote down “what is that what is that what is that” because I was trying so hard to process what I was seeing.
Most reviews of “Cats” talk about the lack of plot and characterization, so I’ll skip that. Instead, I’m going to focus on how most reviews neglected to mention how prevalent magic would be in the film. Obviously, the sight of celebrities as anthropomorphic cats was a lot to take in, but the added addition of magic to the film made the whole thing spiral out of control. Macavity the Mysterious Cat can levitate and teleport, Bomblurina (played by Taylor Swift) enchants the Jellicle Cats with a salt shaker full of catnip, and Mr. Mistoffelees can summon things with his magical wand made out of a pencil. The added feature of magic is so unnecessary and adds literally nothing but more confusion to this mess of a plot.
To avoid the suffering I endured while watching “Cats,” here’s a list of other parts that both confused me and made me wildly uncomfortable:
- The lore of “Cats” is far more intricate than it needs to be. Nothing is explained, no terms are defined, and whenever I tried to google something I was left with more questions.
- There were So. Many. Crotch. Related.Things. James Cordon hits his junk on a trashcan, Jason Derulo is constantly grinding, etc. I felt like a lot of scenes found a way to feature a crotch shot. I have no idea why this was so prevalent, but it was gross, and I hated it.
- The singing was bad! The whole point of this movie—the entire plot—centered around the performances of the cats, so I don’t know why they didn’t at least autotune a little bit. Most of the performances were strained and off-key, save for Jason Derulo and Jennifer Hudson. This makes sense when it comes to actors like Rebel Wilson and James Cordon who can sort of sing if they need to but were most likely cast based on their abilities as comedians, but I have no clue what happened with Taylor Swift, who sang a jazz number. Her voice was not at all fit for her role and she only saved it by appearing to be the only cast member who seemed to be having fun.
- I know, I know. The cockroach people and mice people have been mentioned in countless reviews. But I really just needed to note that the anthropomorphic cockroaches all have the same face.
- Grizzabella’s crimes are never explained. They say that she has been cast out because of her association with Macavity, but all Macavity wants to do is…die, pretty much. So I’m unsure why they threw her out and caused her to starve to the point of collapse. Kind of harsh.
- At the end of the movie, Old Deuteronomy breaks the fourth wall and talks to the viewer. The sight of Judi Dench’s cat face up close made me tweak hardcore and at this point, I shut off the movie.
The only saving grace of this nightmare was that it produced Jennifer Hudson singing “Memory,” undoubtedly the singular good moment of the movie. But “Cats” does not necessarily exist within the binary of “good” movies and “bad” movies. “Cats” is more of an ordeal. It’s kind of like waxing your asshole—you do it because it’ll be fun to talk about afterward, but it’s really painful while it’s happening to you.