January 9, 2020

Cats (2019)
Grade: 30/100

Director: Tom Hooper
Stars: Francesca Hayward, Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson

What it's about. An adaptation of the celebrated Andrew Lloyd Weber stage musical, directed by the reputable Tom Hooper (The Danish Girl, The King's Speech, Les Misérables). The plot involves a cluster of London alley cats. Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is a new arrival, and makes friends with various other strays, all played by human actors in computer-enhanced cat costumes. Each is given a number to tell their story. Macavity (Idris Elba) is the villian who abducts fellow cats that make him jealous. Deuteronomy (Judy Dench) is the aged feline who decides which cat will be reincarnated as a pampered house cat, or sent up in the balloon from The Wizard of Oz, or something like that. Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson) is an elderly cat who has gone from wealth to dire poverty. Gus (Ian McKellan) hangs around the theater. Mr. Mistoffeless (Laurie Davidson) is a magician, Bustopher Jones (James Corden) is an annoying fatso, Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson) is equally in need of a diet, Mungojerry (Danny Collins) and Rumpleteazer (Naoimh Morgan) are cat burglars, and the list goes on and on and on.

How others will see it. Cats was a box office bust. When my mother asked for me to go to the cineplex with her to see the film, we were the only ones in the audience. They probably would not even have shown the film had we not attended.

Cats is exceptionally unpopular with audiences. At imdb.com, more than half of all the user ratings are ONE out of 10, the lowest possible score. As one might expect, older women like it best (4.9) while men under 30 hate it the most (2.3) with an overall user rating of 2.8.

The user reviews are much more entertaining than the film itself. When the reviews are sorted by "Helpfulness", most are one out of ten, and are laced with sarcasm: "Hollywood's new way of combating online piracy [is to] make movies no one wants to watch"; "Even PETA would euthanize these cats"; "I no longer have a will to live"; "worst movie of the decade"; "Should be considered as a crime against humanity"; "Staring at a wall is a far better use of your time"; etc.

All is panned, especially the software that turns actors in cat costumes into cat people. Those who came to see Taylor Swift are unhappy because, despite a second billing, she is only in the film for a few minutes and has just one number. Jennifer Hudson is panned for her scream singing.

Since the stage musical was among the greatest successes of all time at both London and Broadway, I was curious to read the reviews of those who had enjoyed the stage show but not the movie. These mostly criticized the changes from stage to screen. For example, the gender of old Deuteronomy was changed from male to female, and apparently the stage musical has no spoken dialogue.

Others noted that the stage performers were accomplished singers and dancers while the movie cast actors, but this criticism seems less valid. Francesca Hayward is one of the top ballerinas in London, James Corden is highly successful in musical comedy, Jennifer Hudson and Taylor Swift are highly successful singers, etc.

How I felt about it. Instead, I suspect that the stage show, whether in London or New York, was about as bad as the movie. Those who paid ten times as much for their Broadway tickets as their Cinemark tickets were treated to caterwauling music and overly rehearsed prancing by dancers in silly costumes, and would have found greater entertainment value at a randomly selected inner city black church on Sunday morning.

More objectively, the wealthy middle-aged theater patrons do not constitute a sufficiently broad audience to fill nationwide cineplex theaters. And while Aunt Gladys is bowled over by twenty costumed actors singing badly together, her grown niece Isabella knows better, though she might buy the one Taylor Swift number from Spotify.

At least the film attendees could enjoy the many close-ups of Francesca Hayward's cute and friendly face. Hopefully, this talented dancer will achieve American stardom despite this commercially and critically disastrous movie.

If all preconceptions are left at the movie entrance, such that the attendee can watch Cats without any knowledge of the famous long-running stage musical, the first impression is that the film is really, really weird. The lyrics and plot are difficult to fully grasp. Once it becomes clear that the sole pleasure is provided by Hayward's face, it is only a question of whether to leave the theater long before Taylor Swift shows up, or whether to endure the awfulness until the scrolling credits indicate the suffering is nearly over.