Correction: An earlier version of this article said cheap movie Tuesdays at Imagine Cinemas are $3, which is no longer the case. Admission is now $5 on Tuesdays. Still worth seeing Cats?
There are few performances that have brought me less joy than a production of Cats at the NAC in the early 2000s. From the opening discordant chords of the overture to the very on message and meaningless last line, “And that’s how you address a cat,” I squirmed with discomfort. I don’t like T.S. Elliot, I think Andrew Lloyd Webber is tremendously overrated and only ever writes half a musical (with the exception of Joseph/Aspects of Love), I hated the 2004 film adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, and I think contemporary dance has the lowest reach to grasp ratio of any art form, especially when it comes to serious subject matter (I once saw a contemporary dance interpretation of Hotel Rwanda—yikes. All I can say is too many white people). So you would think that Cats would be something I avoid like the plague. It was not, from the first second of the first trailer it was atop my list for movies to see. And the wait was worth it.
I loved the movie Cats. There are few things packed with as much joy as the director of the King’s Speech’s rendering of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s cocaine-driven contemporary dance show. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not good. It doesn’t work as a movie, it is exactly as bad as the stage version of the musical was and has been bad (for confirmation of this, see Al Pacino’s face referencing the stage musical in the HBO version of Angels in America). But there is something worthwhile, something laudable, something so earnest and sweet about a project that everyone works so hard on that fails so completely to accomplish whatever it was Cats was trying to accomplish. It’s joyous because of their efforts. Six days after my birth, the Challenger blew up and with it took the dreams of space exploration from the entire Western World. Cats is the opposite of that. Cats went up, exploded, and as its ashes fell they transformed into the ineffectual sublime
Yes, IMDB gives it 2 stars and change, yes that’s in the ballpark of its merits but it doesn’t matter. You should go see Cats. It’s playing at Imagine Cinemas on Tuesday for $5 a ticket and it’s worth every penny. You will never experience something quite like seeing Cats in a movie theatre that replaced all the teenagers with automatons, where the only employee’s nametag says “Manager,” and where you know a cast, crew, and digital effects team tried their damndest to make Cats high art and high camp.
Slavoy Zizek’s Event, for Zizek is the master of sweaty, nose-dripping philosophy, partially defines an event “something new that undermines every stable scheme.” While this doesn’t quite capture the joyous effort and collective explosion that is Cats, it is certainly by his way of thinking an event. This is a movie of solid efforts. Dame Judy Dench gives a complete performance that rivals her best manifestations of her career. Sir Ian McKellen embodies the physicality of a cat in the way only an octogenarian gay man can. You shall not pass, you shall not collect 200 dollars, you shall spend five dollars to go see Cats. Jennifer Hudson raises the movie to such highs that even a cat cannot survive its fall from her grace, and because Andrew Lloyd Webber is a terrible hack who never writes more than half a musical, you get to see it happen twice. The ever so horny Broadway dancers are in peak form. The orchestration and soundtrack is wonderful in isolation, though when matched with the delightfully weird computer graphic overlay its majesty breaks. There is something right about James Corden prancing around celebrating his own protuberance, and Rebel Wilson is very strong as a horny ringmaster spreading her feline wears. And Taylor Swift, my god, never has an American pop star failed to master a British accent better than good old tswift, who is a New Year’s Eve ball still hanging on in March.
Cats will leave you wanting for nothing, certainly not your five dollars back.
Cats is an event, and the sum of its parts never achieves the wholeness of Lucy the Australopithecus afarensis, let alone a cat of any kind but I encourage you to love it for that. This movie is like eating a double cheese burger from a coupon at Burger King. You can taste the pickle, the familiar taste of mustard, you can taste the patty and recognize what it is but the experience leaves you somehow unsatiated. Except Cats satiates. Cats is extra. In a world that is increasingly viewed in black and white, with darkness and cruelty winning at every turn, with countries setting themselves on fire instead of trying to address the coming apocalypse: Cats is neon bisexual purple. Cats is a triumph in terribly conceived queer cinema. Cats will leave you wanting for nothing, certainly not your five dollars back. Cats captures the joy and melancholy of being queer, the very real possibility of failure of pageantry and the compassion we all should feel when a drag queen breaks a heel. The interstitials in Cats are melancholic guitar riffs and the songs are huge anthemic burps in the wind.
And if you are lucky, if you are really lucky, you will experience the instantaneous review I did when I saw the film last Wednesday (paying the full 6 dollars for the experience). An infant was in the audience and in the most exacting piece of film criticism I have heard in years, the baby let out occasional raspberries during the silences. To adult shrieks of delight and laughter. What a career that baby has ahead of it.
Go see Cats because it’s five dollars and receive a five dollar experience that is quite unlike anything you will experience ever again.
Go see Cats on Tuesday at Imagine, because it is bad. Go see it because people, including a knight, a dame, several Oscar/Emmy/Tony/Golden Globe alumni tried their damndest, an orchestra trained for decades to bring it to you, dancers ruined their feet to excel at their cat-like tread and feline gyrations, and some computer geniuses had to develop new technologies to make something that fudging weird. Go see Cats because there is nothing like the shared experience of watching people at the top of their craft; do the very best jobs their lifetime of training has brought, and still all they can manage is a balloon propelling itself in a fart noise across an empty room. Go see it because maybe the ghost of teenage jobs past will resurrect into real employees. Go see Cats because it’s five dollars and receive a five dollar experience that is quite unlike anything you will experience ever again. Go see Cats because it’s an event we can all share. It’s not schadenfreude, because there is no cruelty in experiencing something that is packed with so much reverence talent. Go see Cats because loving something as bad as Cats is not ironic and loving Cats for it’s weirdness is not cynical.
Go see Cats because in the words of Old Deuteronomy “a cat is not a dog.” Thank you Judy Dench, thank you for your service.
Tuesday is $5 movie day at Imagine Cinemas inside St. Laurent shopping mall. Cats is playing at 4pm and 7pm.