Cat's Meow, TheReviewed By Thom
Posted 04/13/02 06:26:26
Its not Gosford Park, or Titanic but its definitely trying to cash in on the current appetite for costume drama. It’s a miscasting nightmare with lots of eye candy. The savior of the film is Joanna Lumley who, as a cast member, plays much the same role as her character, the educated, savvy outsider with real class and sophistication stuck on a boat with a bunch of uncultured nouveau riche opportunists with a lot of political and personal power. She is the adult contending with two year olds with machine guns.And if there weren’t so many great period costumes (the mid-late 1920’s) and rich detailing, the film would have been a colossal bore. Kirsten Dunst tried but she’s just not ready to carry a film like this. She seemed almost intimidated by her role unlike the way she owned her part in Crazy/Beautiful – the film that made me a believer in her talent. I felt like she was listening to everyone but herself about how to play Marian Davies. But don’t think that its not her. It is. But this film doesn’t capitalize on her strengths.
Dunst is an interesting actress and I hope she has a succesful, strong, career which may mean listening to her gut instinct and taking risks. She wasn’t the first choice. Bogdanovich thought she might be a little young and even during shooting he did the unthinkable and coached her on her line delivery.
She needs to give in to the “California Curse”. Lumley’s character explains that the curse starts in the moment you arrive in Hollywood. You know you have the curse if you forget where you came from, think money is the only reason to do anything and lose any sense of morality.
Sounds like good career advice to me. What Dunst did say about her career is that she doesn’t like to work on films back to back because “There isn’t enough good material for one after the other.”
The collective stupidity and vapidity of the characters made me wonder what exactly the Bogdanovich was trying to portray about the world of William Randolph Hearst and all his hanger-ons. I didn’t have sympathy for any of the characters, there wasn’t any dramatic tension. There were lots of funny scenes and visual puns but the over all story arc wended and winded but went nowhere. The film was suggesting that it was going to make a point, say something poignant and thoughtful, that eventually, all the foppishness would take you to deeper waters. But it doesn’t. Bogdanovich admits that "the morality of the movie is ambiguous. Hearst is wrong, but so is Chaplin and so is Marian."
The possibility for a dialectic between power and responsibility, love and business, private and public was all there but routinely ignored in favor of glitter and sass. The script was weak and relied on too many cliché plot devices. Instead of having the plot turn on one moment of mistaken identity, one moment of discovery, Cat’s Meow kept using turnkey moments throughout the whole film, losing whatever tension you create with a more streamlined story.
The audience already knows what’s going to happen and we have to suffer through watching the characters find out what you already know. And since the characters are not people you’d care about for any reason because they are all crude, corrupt, over-indulgent and shallow, you don’t really care if any one finds out the truth about anything.
I kept hoping for full scale revolution since there is no sense of justice served, or a higher purpose served, or redemption or a tragic fall from grace and power or anything a good drama should contain. It’s like the watching the Bush Administration. Shameful people get away with behaving shamefully and even the righteous hero is actually a corrupt villain. An innocent victim is buried with all the secrets surrounding his death. Secrets that could have destroyed an empire but are instead used as bargaining chips by all the people who know the truth.
The hardest person to cast was Chaplin. He is so “iconic”, says Jennifer Tilly, who plays gossip columnist Luella. Izzard, a self-described “male lesbian” seemed like an unlikely choice. Bogdanovich saw Izzard’s stand up show in New York and thought, based on his theory that if you can do comedy, you can do anything, and Izzard being short and English, they talked and he got he role. Lumley had read for the part but was hired after Izzard told Bogdanovich, “You can’t do better than Joanna”.
Lumley's characater was originally schedule to be played by Lynn Redgrave and even Hearst had to be recast at the last minute. Three weeks into shooting and they still didn’t have a Hearst. Ed Hermann, a character actor, was another unlikely choice for a male lead.
Dunst had difficulty finding the chemistry that existed between Davies and Hearst with Hermann and she was glad that her one scene where she had to be intimate consisted of just a quick peck on the cheek.Izzard and Lumley turn in great performances, Tilly is charmingly despisable as the uncouth Luella and Hermann does his best to embody a man as complicated and powerful as Hearst. I think Bogdanovich had an entirely different vision of what he wanted this film to be and it falls far short of that.
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