Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Cat's Meow

Price: $2.95
Year: 2001
Run Time: 114 minutes
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Cast: Eddie Izzard, Kirsten Dunst, Edward Herrman, Cary Elwes, Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Tilly

Although not a great movie, The Cat's Meow gets a lot of mileage from a few elements, making it a pretty good, compulsively watchable movie. The most notable of these elements is the amazing cast. Films depicting historical events and character are always amusing when famous actors are cast. This film speculates on the mysterious death of director/producer Thomas Ince (Elwes) one weekend aboard a ship belonging to William Randolph Hearst. Although the historical accuracy of what is shown on screen is questionable, the film claims that notable personalities were on board the ship such as Charlie Chaplin (Izzard), Marion Davies (Kunst), Louella Parsons (Tilly), Elinor Glyn (Lumley), and Margaret Livingston (Claudia Harrison) to name a few. A love triangle between Chaplin, Davies, and Hearst drives much of the action of the story. Although some of the casting of these roles is questionable, all of the players are enjoyable to watch. Eddie Izzard's sleazy lothario take on Charlie Chaplin is entertaining and charming. Kunst, who is often criticized for her lack of sex appeal and inconsistent acting talents, is actually pretty convincing as Marion Davies. Her hyperactive little girl schtick works well for this character, and ads an unsettling father and daughter element to the Hearst-Davies love affair. Edward Herrman really steals the show as an insecure William Randolph Hearst, and it is pleasing to see someone who is usually a secondary actor given the chance to shine. Joanna Lumley is a treat as always, and Jennifer Tilly, although of questionable talent, has a very humorous screen presence. As an ensemble, these players, in addition to a few unknowns, have an intoxicating kinetic energy. Its like watching a party you wish you were at.

If you're a sucker for period pieces, and love the 1920s especially, you will probably enjoy this movie. Whenever things are about to get tense, someone yells the word Charleston, and everyone starts dancing. The fashion is pretty exquisite, especially the butterfly hat that Kunst wears in one scene. The movie wants to make a statement of some sort about that time period, even if it is unclear at times.

There are some film-making things that a supposedly master director like Bogdanovich should know to avoid. Having the bulk of the movie in color and just the funeral scenes in black and white is rather trite and predictable. Also, although the sets and costumes are really great, I wish this movie had a more distinct visual style.

This movie has certainly made me interested in the career of Marion Davies. I am only familiar with the way she is portrayed here and with the character from Citizen Kane that is based on her. Here is a clip from a talkie she was in called Floradora girl.

The Cat's Meow is not an impressive movie, but it is very competent and enjoyable. It is also one of the few bones Kunst apologists can chew on.

No comments: