The Cat's Meow

I would like to mention, first of all, that I am all too eager to see a film with Cary Elwes, Edward Herrmann, and Kirsten Dunst ... not to mention Joanna Lumley (the old bat from the Britcom AbFab) whose film appearances are rather limited ... PLUS directed by one of America's more famed directors, Peter Bogdanovich. So it is quite evident that I was looking forward to seeing this picture without even caring what it was about. And, indeed, I didn't know what this film was going to be when I entered the movie theater.

It is unfortunate the film left me with negative feelings.

Anyone interested in Hollywood history should enjoy watching these characters party on the big screen, however. (Among them Charlie Chaplin, William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, novelist Elinor Glyn, and columnist Louella Parsons.) That gives the film a sort of novelty quality. History aficionado or not, the viewer should nevertheless expect more from this movie and unfortunately, it doesn't offer much.

On the bright side, the film provides an interesting but unlikely theory of what killed Thomas Innes aboard his birthday party on a yacht full of celebrities in 1924. Basically, the whole affair strikes up when Hearst suspects that his mistress, Marion Davies, is having a secret affair with Charlie Chaplin. Heated suspicion and jealousy ensues while Chaplin makes advances toward Davies. While the plot is interesting, it bored the heck out of me.

Bogdanovich fails to make this film engaging. He must have assumed this would be a limited release picture that only film buffs would consider seeing, and relied solely on the film's historical significance and novelty. Not once did I immerse myself in the story. I felt no emotion (i.e. laughter, urges to cry, adrenaline rushes, etc.) whatsoever. This movie is slow and boring even though it's about a controversial death amongst wild movie stars.

The individual characters, however, I had much interest in. (However, that might be my already-founded interest in the characters and the people who portray them speaking.)

Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst) - A bubbly Hollywood star whose personality is as carefree as sugarless gum. Her very presence in a room will make it dazzle. Kirsten Dunst, a rising Hollywood herself, really gives this character life. It's not to say she should have expected an Oscar, but she probably turns in the strongest performance of the lot.

Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard) - He's not so much the scandalous woman-chaser I've had the impression he was, but he does make quick advances toward Marion Davies -- much to the dread of William Randolph Hearst. Izzard’s performance seems to stick closely with Chaplin's real-life personality, but it is uninspired. (Then again, I have Robert Downy, Jr. to compare that to.)

William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann) - A big guy -- both in the corporate world and in person. Someone of such stature gets what he wants; if he doesn't, he'll make it so he does. Even the big guys have their weak spots. His weak spot: Marion Davies. There is a reason you don't see Edward Herrmann in many starring roles -- he can seldom carry it to save his life. For him to have the most emotionally intense role in the film was a mistake. He's better left in the background -- he can be priceless as a supporting cast member in goofball comedies (as seen in "Born Yesterday," "Big Business," and "Overboard) just not here.

Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes) - A man who sees his whole career slipping away underfoot and he's not sure what to do. This character's method to solve his dilemma, by making some sort of arrangement (or trick) with Hearst, had me utterly confused. Ince goes to the trouble of making Hearst aware of the situation between Chaplin and Davies, and I have no idea why. (How frustrating!) Cary Elwes gives a merely passable performance. He's no Cary Grant, but he could have done much better. He gave a better performance in "Twister" for Pete's sake!

Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley) - An almost-sensible novelist, Glyn still knows how to enjoy herself. Her character is actually the narrator of the story and was the best candidate for the position. She is the casual, neutral observer. Don't expect a goofy, AbFab-esque performance from Lumley. This character is more sophisticated! She did, however, turn in a very nice, classy performance that surpassed the quality of most of the leading cast. (That came as a bit of a surprise.)

Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) - She talks so much, she's more annoying in person than one of her gossip columns. Hired specifically by Hearst to write positive reviews of his movies, she would much rather be a fully-syndicated gossip columnist. If she annoys the powerful people she jabbers at, it might be blackmail enough to get what she wants. Jennifer Tilly is an actress with commendable talent. She is effective in character so well that it annoyed the heck out of me too.

Peter Bogdanovich, like most ailing movie directors, has a triumphant reputation to live up to. Who could say less about the man who directed four of the most amazing contemporary classics in a row? ("Targets," "The Last Picture Show," "What's Up Doc?" and "Paper Moon.") His heyday is over -- Bogdanovich has lost the spark that made those four films so darn great. "The Cat's Meow" is slow, confusing, and boring with very little spark. The plot and characters may be interesting, but the proper credit for that should go to the screenwriter.

Movie reviewed by Michael Lawrence

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Starring:

Kirsten Dunst, Edward Herrmann, Eddie Izzard, Cary Elwes, Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Tilly, Claudia Harrison, Ronan Vilbert, Victor Slezak, Claudie Blakley, Chiara Schoras, Ingrid Lacey

Directed by:

Peter Bogdanovich

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2002 comedy

Rated PG-13.

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Don Ignacio's score: C

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