From the moment that CATS was announced, I was conflicted. I love cats. Lowercase cats, that purr and then bite you unexpectedly for petting them too long. I do not like uppercase CATS where humans dress as giant felines and then sing songs about dying to be reborn again as a "chosen one." It's creepy. I had a friend named Tracy who made me watch a VHS live version of it too many times growing up, and I'll never forgive her for that. My review of this film was always going to be biased. Considering how poor reviews have been for CATS, that would not be fair.
For the holidays, I have returned home to Tennessee where my dad Wendell, a self-described "redneck who doesn't mind a musical," has been recruited to go and screen the new CATS film with me. I thought his opinion would be better than mine—I could write 600 words about how awful this film is, just like everyone else. But there is only one man (I know of) who has a working knowledge of both the songbook from Burlesque and the firing mechanism on a Remington Model 700. He has layers. Wendell's background is one that allows him to see these worlds, feline-heavy or not, through a different lens. Arguably, this is one of the worldliest views of CATS you could read.
Our Knoxville theater had a total of five people in it: a couple who sat at the back of the theater, a woman who sat near the front row, and us in the middle. Through most of the previews, Wendell tried to figure out how a bottle of water and a bag of popcorn cost 15 dollars. I had two glasses of six-dollar red wine.
Below, find his thoughts on Jennifer Hudson's big number, cat dancing, and his general sentiments about Taylor Swift's acting career. The following is a review of CATS by my father Wendell, as told to me.
CATS Isn’t So Weird If You Let Yourself Get Into It
by Wendell Kirkland, as told to Justin Kirkland
CATS started a little slow, and you have to be patient because there are a lot of cats to see. I knew it had to get better, so I waited. Overall, I think CATS would work better as a play. I’d like to see that. Honestly, when I was told we were going to see CATS, I thought that was what we were going to see. I didn’t know this was a movie. But regardless, I do think the movie was cool. No kidding.
The rundown of CATS is that it starts with one cat getting thrown away in a bag. Her name is Isabelle (Francesca Hayward). Then every cat introduces themselves so that one old Granny cat (Judi Dench) can choose a winner to have an extended life. Granny cat was great—educated, had some neck hair issues, but cool. There’s one cat that they pick every year or every nine lives or some shit. Point is: there’s only one winner each time.
Isabelle couldn’t be the winner because she was just welcomed in to be an alley cat. Then there’s the Devil Cat (Idris Elba), and he just wanted to win to be an asshole. And Burlesque Cat (Taylor Swift) wanted to help him win because sometimes you get tied up in a bad crowd. He was taking people—the fat cats (James Corden, Rebel Wilson) and the old man (Ian McKellan) and Mr. Bojangles (Steven McRae)—and putting them on a ship so they couldn’t win. All the cats wanted to be the best one. They sang and tap danced and played their parts. The black and white cat that cuddles up all the time to Isabelle (Laurie Davidson)—even he was a magician. Isabelle went and got that Bag Lady Cat (Jennifer Hudson) and made her sing a song called “Memory.”
There’s just one special cat, and that girl from American Idol was it. And Isabelle didn’t know what she was getting into when all of this started. They just threw her ass out, so this was more about her just getting in with a new group. If there were a Cats 2, it’d be Isabelle’s time. But at the end, Granny put Jennifer Hudson in a hot air balloon, and she went to cat heaven. That’s the reward. You go to cat heaven and get an extended life.
Fifteen minutes into CATS, I had some doubts, but if you stick with anything long enough it will end. I really like musicals, so I was all in. If I could change anything, I’d pep it up a little bit. I expected more out of Isabelle. She was strictly ballerina, which was fine, but I wanted her to breakout. Badass legs, though. That’s not a sexual thing; she’s just ripped. Poor old Bag Lady. I expected more out of her character. When Bag Lady came in there to sing and everybody was like she oh my God, I think she should have looked around and said, “Here’s who the fuck I am. You brought it out of me.” But she just stayed sad until right at the end. I just kept thinking, “She’s better than this. She won American Idol. She’s gonna kick the shit out of this.”
As for highlights, Mr. Bojangles was a dancing cat, and he stole the damn show. I’d watch a whole movie about Mr. Bojangles. There ain’t but three cats that could have done what he did, and two of them are dead. And this is probably the most I’ve ever liked Taylor Swift. Burlesque cat (Swift) came down on a moon, and I thought, “oh, this cat can sing.” I could have watched a few more scenes with her.
Overall, I get why people felt weird about it, but I don’t think they got it. Once you stop judging it and just listen to the story, you can get into it. You’ve just got to give that shit time. Let it sink in. Be the cat.
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