Graham Williamson’s review published on Letterboxd:
Reviewed on Cinema Eclectica.
I was delighted when Sarah asked me, on the podcast, whether there should have been a framing story for this. I was delighted because it meant I wasn't alone in having spent a genuinely wasteful amount of time trying to work out what could have been done to make this work. I mean, obviously the best idea would be to leave it on the stage. But seeing as the stage show of Cats has made enough money to make a film adaptation inevitable, what could you do?
Cats's status as one of the biggest musicals of all time has obscured the fact that it's essentially a revue show, and the only people who seem to get away with making films that have a similar cameo-to-cameo structure are Jan Švankmajer and Jim Jarmusch. The fact that I'm comparing Universal's big Christmas release to blockbusting megahits like Conspirators of Pleasure and The Limits of Control is certainly an indicator of how badly things have gone awry here. But I think Tom Hooper, if he's smart, could reposition himself in this way! I watched Andrzej Žuławski's Possession for the first time recently, and it's startling how many of Hooper's tics could fit neatly into a film by the late Polish Surrealist. Awkward framing? Check. Sudden jags of frenetic hand-held camera? Check. Horrifying sexualised human-animal chimeras? Look at the poster, you'd better believe that's a check.
OK, so maybe this won't happen. But Cats stands as a remarkable achievement in accidental Surrealism, the kind of massively misjudged big-budget flop that we all assumed commercial cinema was too timid to produce any more. It is getting, and earning, a strong camp fanbase; before the end of 2020 I predict we will see the first Rocky Horror-style screenings, where people dressed in fur coats and feline face-paint purse their lips and shout back "A CAT IS NOT A DOG!" in the voice of Judi Dench. And, in my end of year ranking, I still couldn't find it in myself to put it beneath Midsommar.