Film Review: CATS (directed by Tom Hooper)

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by Joan Alperin on December 12, 2019

in Film


OK, I’m fully aware that many people find Cats the musical a baffling phenomenon. I’ve loved it from the start, when I saw it with my husband on Broadway. He hated it. Later I dragged him clawing and mewling to the now shuttered Shubert Theatre in Los Angeles, and he still was not on board. Believe it or not, I actually got him to see it a third time in Vancouver, where he not only hated it, but left at intermission. I loved the show so much that I wondered if this was grounds for divorce.

Yet the older I get the more I like Cats. It’s a daring flight of fancy into the outer stratosphere of the concept musical — bordering on experimental theater. And for me, this experiment was a success. Now here comes the film version directed by Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) and I loved this picture as much as the theater outing. Even given the subjectivity of the arts, I am shocked that fellow critics have had such a horrible reaction to the film. Based on the screening I saw, I suspect that audiences will come out in droves for this — regardless of the slashing opinions against it.

For the two of you unfamiliar with Cats, it is based on T. S. Eliot’s 1939 book, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Musicalized by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1981, the plot — if you can call it that — involves the Jellicle Ball, a fancy event where a geriatric cat named Old Deuteronomy (Dame Judi Dench) chooses one cat to be reborn on the Heavyside Layer, which is some sort of heaven-esque place that these kitties really want to visit. There are many contenders for this honor, including cats played by Rebel Wilson, Jason Derulo, James Cordon, and Taylor Swift. Jennifer Hudson, as the ostracized outsider Grizabella, gets to sing one of the most beautiful, emotionally moving songs ever written (“Memories”). Then there’s the evil cat Macavity (Idris Elba) who winds up kidnapping Old Deuteronomy along with several other members of his competition.

Yes the plot is thin, but the cast manages to capture the essence of what it is to be a cat — what it is to be a community. They take care of each other. They are a family. You can’t help but care about these creatures even though they might not look like the cats you are use to. Obviously you have to use your imagination while watching the film, but thanks to Paco Delgado’s great costumes (which include some really expressive tails aided by CGI) as well as the precise, sensual movements of the cast, it doesn’t take much effort to believe that you are watching cats interact. I know I’m in the minority here, but Cats resonates for me as I see it being about love and family (hence the Christmastime release). I would ignore all the negative reviews, go see it and be your own judge.

stills courtesy of Universal

Universal Pictures
U.K./U.S.A | 110 minutes
in wide release December 20, 2019

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