The Cat's Meow

"Good"

The Cat's Meow Review


Most film directors dream about making their "Citizen Kane," and while few would have the audacity to try to equal Orson Welles' cinematic masterpiece, Peter Bogdanovich has found a way to do the next best thing.

Where Welles borrowed famously from the life of William Randolph Hearst -- his ego, his powerful publishing empire and his scandals -- in creating the fictional Charles Foster Kane, Bogdanovich has commandeered an incessant rumor about an infamous and mysterious death aboard Hearst's yacht in 1924 and turned it into a foxy and spirited historical showbiz anecdote that lingers in your mind for weeks after seeing it.

"The Cat's Meow" is an ensemble piece packed with the best work of some under-appreciated actors including Edward Herrmann ("The Lost Boys," "Gilmore Girls") as an amusingly gruff Hearst whose paranoia has gotten the better of his nerves; Joanna Lumley ("Absolutely Fabulous") as sardonic novelist and socialite Elinor Glyn; Jennifer Tilly ("Bound") as sycophantic but opportunistic gossip columnist Louella Parsons; Cary Elwes ("The Princess Bride") as once legendary, now down on his luck movie producer Thomas Ince; and a delightfully devilish yet wisely understated Eddie Izzard ("Shadow of the Vampire") as Charlie Chaplin. All these famous names were among the billionaire's onboard guests that fateful weekend.

But it's the spunky, sensual, savvy performance of Kirsten Dunst in the pivotal role of Marion Davies -- the young actress who was Hearst's mistress, and more importantly the lustful Chaplin's object of desire -- that fuels the movie's plot, its effervescent spirit and its apprehensive soul.

Looking every inch the flapper and personifying both the innocence and indulgence of the age without seeming silly, Dunst is perfection from the moment she appears on screen. Bubbly and brave, girlish but wary, devoted to the doting Hearst yet suffocating in his tight grip, Marion recognizes her place in the world. Dunst, in turn, recognizes in her character both a joie de vivre and an underlying sadness and dissatisfaction with being a kept woman, an object of scorn and a perceived gold digger.

The film's plot -- "the whisper told most often," to quote Lumley's voice-over, about that weekend's events -- is fueled by Marion's frustration. It turns on her flirtations with Chaplin, who says he's in love with her (to which she laughs, "Not as much as you're in love with yourself, Charlie.")

Their dalliance is overheard by Ince, the financially troubled producer, who decides to use this knowledge as leverage with the forever suspicious Hearst in the hopes of gaining the billionaire's trust and turning that trust into a business partnership that could save his career.

As tensions mount -- eventually leading to a tragic case of mistaken identity and murder -- the guests all gossip behind one another's backs, and Bogdanovich directs his actors to subtly spectacular performances while delighting in period detail and the minutiae of Hearst mythology.

Ince's desperation and anxiety is written all over the expressive face of Elwes, whose body reacts as if he's been beaten with a bag full of bricks every time Hearst rebuffs him. You can see the gears spinning in his mind as he willingly but ashamedly comes back for more, knowing his livelihood is on the line.

Herrmann garners surprising sympathy for Hearst through his genuine, if misguided and obsessive, adoration of Marion. Izzard and Lumley (who drolly narrates from time to time) are wonderfully wry as cynical Hollywood seen-it-alls who are loathe to admit they enjoy the showbiz mire that they verbally vilify in the tartiest and wittiest of the film's sharp dialogue (written by Steven Peros, who adapted the picture from his own play).

Photographed in color but deliberately designed to look as black-and-white as a piano keyboard, the film envelops the viewer in jazz-era atmosphere like a fog. "The Cat's Meow" also benefits on many levels from Bogdanovich's fondness for and personal familiarity with his subject matter. He was a friend and fan of Orson Welles (he's even written a book on that director's works), whose influence is felt in the film's grim undertones and in its depiction of W.R. Hearst's mystique. Bogdanovich's own relationships with young starlets (Cybill Shepherd during "The Last Picture Show," Dorothy Stratten during "They All Laughed") and proximity to related tragedy (Stratten was later murdered) also contribute in no small part to the thick sense of irony wafting through the picture.

Yet even with dark themes looming, "The Cat's Meow" remains strangely buoyant, vivacious and amusing because of Dunst, who maintains Marion Davies' contagious gaiety throughout the film while handling beautifully and emotionally the burdens and secrets thrust upon her.



The Cat's Meow

Facts and Figures

Run time: 114 mins

In Theaters: Friday 4th June 2004

Box Office USA: $3.2M

Box Office Worldwide: $3.2M

Budget: $7M

Distributed by: Lions Gate Films Releasing

Production compaines: CP Medien AG, Lions Gate Films, Dan Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Fresh: 93 Rotten: 31

IMDB: 6.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Marion Davies, as W. R. Hearst, as Charlie Chaplin, as Thomas Ince, as Elinor Glyn, as Louella Parsons

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

This may not be the cheeriest movie of the season, but it's so skilfully written,...

Live By Night Movie Review

Live By Night Movie Review

Ben Affleck launched his directing career 10 years ago with his film of Dennis Lehane's...

La La Land Movie Review

La La Land Movie Review

After storming awards season with Whiplash two years ago, writer-director Damien Chazelle returns with something...

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on...

Silence Movie Review

Silence Movie Review

Faith is a topic Martin Scorsese can't quite shake, courting controversy with complex films like...

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A difficult movie to market, this isn't actually the BFG-style fantasy adventure it looks like....

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Word has it that a 4-year-old came up with the idea for this unapologetically silly...

Advertisement
Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Dramas exploring the nature of death and the true meaning of life are always in...

Paterson Movie Review

Paterson Movie Review

Unpredictable filmmaker Jim Jarmusch ricochets from his artful vampire movie Only Lovers Left Alive into...

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

At 80 years old, British filmmaker Ken Loach won his second Cannes Film Festival with...

Why Him? Movie Review

Why Him? Movie Review

Writer-director John Hamburg continues to recycle the formula that made his first hit Meet the...

Passengers Movie Review

Passengers Movie Review

Anchored by the almost ridiculously engaging Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, this sci-fi movie travels...

Neruda Movie Review

Neruda Movie Review

Clever Chilean director Pablo Larrain (who also directed Natalie Portman's Jackie) takes on the Nobel-winning...

The Eagle Huntress Movie Review

The Eagle Huntress Movie Review

Narrated by Daisy Ridley (The Force Awakens), this documentary is one of the most gripping...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.