Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5.
United Kingdom/USA, 2019. Working Title Films, Amblin Entertainment, Perfect World Pictures, Monumental Pictures, The Really Useful Group.
Screenplay by Lee Hall, Tom Hooper, based on the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and the poetry collection Old Possum’s Books Of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. Cinematography by Christopher Ross. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Tom Hooper. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Production Design by Eve Stewart. Costume Design by Paco Delgado. Film Editing by Melanie Oliver. Golden Globe Awards 2019.
It was a musical that could only come out in the early eighties, the drugs from the previous decade wearing off just enough to inspire a completely bonkers idea for a play that, thousands of performances and almost forty years later, has resulted in what is to date the fourth-longest-running Broadway show. A feature film adaptation of hit stage musicals is always in the cards, though this one seemed impossible for a long time: Tom Hooper seems to have been forgiven for his casting of Russell Crowe in Les Miserables enough to be given the chance to helm another popular musical’s transition to the screen, and in his effort to film the seemingly unfilmable property, has without a doubt bungled the results. The gathering of a group of four-footed critters, with names that sound like things your grandmother calls you after too much Bailey’s in her hot chocolate, is still the general idea around which the plot revolves, inspired by T.S. Eliot’s 1939 collection of poetry exploring his own ruminations on his feline friends (itself seeming to be the result of his enjoying too much absinthe). The stage musical is essentially a collection of showcase numbers that give you a sense of the performer’s dazzling ability to sing and dance in a furry costume, but what should be just as charismatic and strange an experience on film is ruined by a series of increasingly confusing choices. Hooper makes them actually cat-sized but keeps them on two legs and, rather than using costumes akin to what the play featured, which would have been perfectly acceptable here, the actors are given cat ears and fur created by computer graphics (both look terrible), and the appearance of visual effects is painfully at odds with their human hands and feet, which are covered in actual makeup. A series of what are obviously talented dancers do their best with the musical arrangements of most of the show’s eternal earworms, but Hooper makes the disastrous decision to enhance their moves with CGI that undermine their skills, then places them against hideous backgrounds that look like computer screensavers from an old Macintosh. The performances are a varied collection, Judi Dench‘s magnificence as Deuteronomy is out of place in the otherwise shallow presentation of the plot, Ian McKellen is uncomfortable to watch as the aged Gus, newcomer Francesca Hayward dances beautifully as Victoria but can’t sing, Laurie Davidson as Mr. Mistoffelees and Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks give classy performances lost in the editing mess that Hooper drowns them in, and James Corden as Bustopher Jones and Rebel Wilson as Bombalurina are given too many opportunities to add their own gags and none of them ever work. Most disappointing is that Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella sings the show’s signature tune “Memory” with all the power and skill that we know her golden voice to possess, but much like Anne Hathaway’s performance of “I Dreamed A Dream” in Miserables, Hooper directs her to cry during the whole number and kills its emotional power (if you want the audience to cry, you need to show some restraint). Never bad enough to be a camp classic or daring enough to merit the attention of the stage show’s fans, this stinker is best ignored and forgotten.