So I saw it. I don’t think it’s quite the disaster it’s made out to be, but it’s definitely a mess.
First and foremost, this is the play on screen, which is both its greatest strength and weakness. If you like the music (I find it pretty hit or miss), it’s generally performed well. The highlight is definitely Taylor’s take on “Macavity”. She really commands the screen and has the most charisma of any of the vocalists. She’s only the screen for <10 minutes, but makes the most of it. JHud also does a great job with “Memory”. Other than that, I enjoyed the Mr. Mistoffelees song until it went for too long. The dancers are also great. Francesca Hayward is certainly very talented and she has a likable presence. That said, her vocals on “Beautiful Ghosts” are probably the weakest in the film. Taylor definitely did it better. I should add the song works in context and the comparisons to “Memory” make a lot more sense. The other songs are mostly forgettable and/or annoying in my opinion.
The plot of the play is literally a bunch of cats introducing themselves hoping to go to the Heaviside Layer. That holds true here, but they do try to make it a little more linear. Making Victoria the protagonist and the audience surrogate was a good move, and she helps hold the thin-stringed plot together. I liked her connection with Grizabella, which helps flesh out the primary theme of acceptance.
Acting performances are fine. Hayward is an acceptable lead, with most of her charm coming from her facial expressions and dancing. Judi Dench, Ian McKellan, and Jennifer Hudson give solid performances, but the material isn’t exactly the most challenging. Rebel Wilson and James Corden are meant to be some kind of comic relief, but literally none of their jokes stick. Idris Elba is the only actor that seems to realize how ridiculous this whole thing is, and gives a suitably cartoony performance.
However, the main problem is just how different all of these performances are. Tom Hooper absolutely butchered the tone. Some of it is taken very seriously, some of it is musical bombast, and some of it is straight cheese. Elba’s performance would have worked better if the film played along with him, but it doesn’t, so it mostly just comes across as cringy.
Now the giant cat in the room: the effects. Personally, the uncanny valley doesn’t really unsettle me, so I wasn’t nearly as horrified as the masses when the trailers came out. The character designs definitely take some getting used to, but I at least came to accept it. The CGI mostly holds up, but the effects were definitely unfinished in spots, most notably in the feet and hands. I’m not the least bit shocked that the end product was rushed and they’re supposedly re-working it.
Same with the editing. Many cuts make no sense, with characters in completely different positions than the previous shot, and some plot points seemed straight up abandoned. For example, towards the end, Macavity takes Bombalurina with him as he leaves a location, but then she never shows up with him later on. And Derulo’s character comes in with a musical number, but is just in the background for the remainder of the movie. I feel like both characters were meant to have bigger roles. Also, while the dancing is great, there are too many cuts that lessen the experience. Some wider takes would have been nice too. It could definitely do with a re-edit.
Other technical aspects work pretty well. Production design is excellent and the color correction looks wonderful. Some shots are beautiful, and the sound mixing is fine.
I think this film’s biggest mistake was the marketing. If it was marketed as a niche and campy musical rather than a must-see family event, the reception to it probably would have been warmer. I still don’t think it would have been a hit, but the hate probably would not have been so strong. It’s a weird movie, sure to become a cult classic, but the tone and editing are just straight up messy. Who would have thought the Oscar winning director would be the weakest link?
I’d give it a 5/10.