If there is any delight to be found in Peter Bogdanovich’s relatively stiff The Cat’s Meow it’s the irony of Absolutely Fabulous alum Joanna Lumley being forced to skimp on the liquor. Poor Patsy has been transplanted from Jennifer Saunders’s comedy-sphere to newspaper magnate William Randolph Heart’s mystery yacht, where her Elinor Glyn and a bevy of prohibition-era Hollywood power-players and wannabes are forced to reenact a lame game of cinematic Clue. Hearst (Edward Herrmann), whose literal and figurative affinities for rosebuds were waxed Freudian in Orson Welles’s seminal Citizen Kane, plays the fool when his mistress, Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst as a baby Jennifer Jason Leigh), begins to carry on with the gawky, physically-endowed Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard). In the subjective hands of Bogdanovich and writer Steven Peros, the Hollywood scandal once snipped from Citizen Kane yearns for relevance as found-cinema; David Ince’s death, though, amounts to little more than an unfortunate bout of mistaken identity. Ince (Cary Elwes) learns of the Chaplin-Davies affair and seeks to clue in old man Hearst via one of the Little Tramp’s unsent letters to his maid Marion (the note is left readily available for plucking within Chaplin’s chamber garbage pail). Lumley’s insightful monologues accompany Cat’s Meow‘s fabulous black-and-white sequences, which evoke a Hollywood that is freakishly “just off the planet earth.” Aboard the party boat, Hearst’s pot-stoked guests do the Charleston while chumming up with the colored servants. Though Bogdanovich sympathizes with moneybag Hearst, he’s most interested in how the old lout will always fall just outside the Hollywood radar system. Then there is Jennifer Tilly, doing her usual helium-induced shtick, this time as a graceless writer who discovers her inner-opportunist at just the right time. Lest you forget Hearst is a fool in a businessman’s garb, Bogdanovich goes as far as to make a bumbling mess of the man while he sports a jester’s hat. Cat’s Meow, in the end, is too self-conscious and glib about its scandal to ever carry much weight. Indeed, Lumley’s presence as outsider-observer is so delicately snippy that it shames the rest of the production; you might wish for Robert “Unsolved Mysteries” Stack to ominously open and close this saga.
- Peter Bogdanovich
- Steven Peros
- Kirsten Dunst, Cary Elwes, Edward Herrmann, Eddie Izzard, Jennifer Tilly, Joanna Lumley, Claudia Harrison, Ronan Vibert, Victor Slezak, Claudie Blakley, Chiara Schoras, Ingird Lacey, John C. Vennema
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