As I sat in the car on the way home from seeing “Cats,” directed by Tom Hooper, the Greek myth of Medusa came to mind. In the story, Medusa is a monster with snakes for hair, who turns anyone who looks at her into stone statues that line her entryway. The king-to-be, wishing to rid himself of his stepson Perseus, commands him to fetch the head of Medusa. Perseus visits Medusa, looking at her only through a mirror, and manages to chop off her head, using it to kill his mother’s fiancé.
The reason I thought of this myth was because I noticed a striking parallel between that story and mine. Medusa was the “Cats” movie: instead of snakes for hair, it has horrifying cat-people for characters. The king was my hubris, motivating me to watch this film that I knew would be awful, just because I wanted to prove that I, too, could write a scathing review of this film. Yet, I cannot connect myself to Perseus, because Perseus ultimately emerged unscathed. My mirrored shield of irony and pride was no match for the fatal glance of “Cats.” Instead, I might liken myself to one of the statues, who journeyed too far for their own good.
A short summary of the plot of “Cats”: There is a tribe of Jellicle Cats. (Do not ask what Jellicle means.) Once a year, they all go to the Jellicle Ball, where Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), the head Jellicle cat, makes the Jellicle Choice to decide which of the Jellicle Cats gets to ascend to the Heaviside Layer (read: die) by making them all sing songs about themselves. There is Jellicle Cat romance and Jellicle Cat evil, and Fat Jellicle Cats singing songs about how fat they are while diving through piles of delicious trash. That’s pretty much all I could tell you about the plot after sitting through this staggeringly long 110-minute film.
To address the elephant in the room, yes, the movie is visually terrifying. There is no rhyme or reason to the way the characters look or move about the space. Only some cats wore shoes; only some cats wore pants. Some cats, disturbingly, wore fur coats. Rebel Wilson’s character (whose name I will not pretend to remember) unzipped her fur at two (2) points in the movie to reveal even more, sparkly fur underneath. The cats were worryingly small compared to the surrounding sets, which, for the most part, seemed to be human-sized but aimed at cats. For example, the milk bar in which Jason Derulo sings for way too long about how sometimes he likes things and sometimes he likes other, different things. I’m not a cat person, but generally I know that a wedding ring would be far too small to fit around a cat’s wrist. I also know that cats do not have human hands and feet!
Perhaps the most disturbing visual of the movie is the way that the cats were definitely human-shaped. The female cats that were not graced with oversized fur coats were far too human-shaped to be read as any other animal. Let’s just say, the furries are probably rejoicing.
What was maybe even more surprising to me were the horrendous performances given by the star-studded cast. Idris Elba, who played Macavity, has won several NAACP and SAG awards, yet his performance could best be described as, “middle schooler playing Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmations Jr. the Musical.” I would say that the award-laden and literal knight Sir Ian McKellan was wasted on Gus the Theatre Cat, except that he was so unexceptional in the role that I wonder why he was even cast at all. Rebel Wilson did her best. I was not impressed by James Corden, though it is my opinion that he should never be cast in any movie ever, so I was not surprised. Judi Dench was as majestic as you would expect and not a drop more. Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella was a little flat, but generally better than the other performances. Taylor Swift was barely in the movie, and I couldn’t tell you what her character was, but at least she actually played one. Francesca Hayward, the “main character,” was uninteresting, except for her choice to keep at least one leg in a ballet-like stance for the duration of the film, which was at least some semblance of consistency in this hell-dream of a movie.
I know that “Cats” is already a weird musical. I know. But at least it relies on spandex, sparingly-used faux fur, and 80’s dance—three things that the world has known for a long time, and continues to be okay with. This movie, this horrible film, this two-hour nightmarish hallucination, was entirely created of things that humanity should never have touched. It’s not that the CGI was bad (though it was). It’s that CGI was used at all. It’s not that the actors were flat (though they were). It’s that actors were cast. Tom Hooper’s *Vision* was not one of greatness, it was one of LSD, delusion, vague fur-fetishization and, inexplicably, Rebel Wilson. Frankly, this movie was a pile of trash, and not one of the delicious ones that James Corden spends five minutes singing about.
Still, I know that this review will not sway your mind. I, too, read scathing reviews of “Cats,” and thought I was better than the reviewers. I thought I had more stamina, was a better hate-watcher, was ready to be a part of the cultural phenomenon that is literally the worst movie of the century thus far. Nevertheless, I walked into the cinema with hope and popcorn, and emerged with neither. I’m yet another statue in Medusa’s garden, rueing the day I decided to tempt fate. I warn you, you are not Perseus. You will not emerge unharmed when the rest of us have suffered so. But you can still try. I can’t stop you.