Cats has been ravaged by critics, receiving some of the worst reviews in movie history. As a result, the box office returns have been dismal and it’s been dropped by most theatres. But I’m astonished that the general public doesn’t understand that when a film receives reviews that bad you have to see it. Glorious cinematic disasters on this scale only happen about once every 25 years—what I wouldn’t give to have seen Showgirls during its original theatrical run. And now I find myself feeling sorry for the people who will miss seeing Cats on a big screen. Streaming it will not be the same.
I could go on about all that’s deliciously wrong and outrageous about the uncanny valley film interpretation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, but others have already done that. I’d rather focus on the one thing the film genuinely got 100 percent right (when they go low, I go meow): Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “Memory.”
Hudson, a former American Idol finalist who went on to work in film (winning an Oscar for her role in Dreamgirls), TV and on Broadway, didn’t have a traditional pop star career, and she is criminally unrecognized as the greatest vocalist of her generation because of it. She has an unmatched power, emotional depth and honesty in her voice that so few mainstream pop stars possess.
Consider the time Hudson sang “I Will Always Love You” as a tribute to Whitney Houston at the 2012 Grammy Awards. Hudson delivered a beautifully heart-wrenching performance that both honoured Houston’s legacy and influence and provided a masterclass in unparalleled vocal control.
“Memory” is the marquee song in Cats, and Hudson’s on screen performance is, like everything else in the movie, completely absurd. The song comes after the audience has been subjected to 90 minutes of the weirdest, most nonsensical story, told through the most hallucinogenic, destabilizing CGI animation ever created. With “Memory,” the madness of the entire experience reaches its climax. Hudson gives the performance of a lifetime, all while looking like something out of a child’s nightmare. I laughed so hard in the theatre I had to bury my face in my arm as I convulsed.
To experience the beauty and power of the song, you must listen to the recording of “Memory” on its own. Hudson sings like she’s carrying a torch for every tear she’s ever shed. She doesn’t just sing from her heart, she sings from her gut. In 2008, she suffered a tragic loss when her mother, brother and nephew were murdered. When she sings, “Daylight / I must wait for the sunrise / I must think of a new life / and I mustn’t give in,” she brings her experience into every word, making her rendition of the song the most personal and real of them all. “Touch meeeee / it’s so easy to leave meeee” is officially the new “and I-I-I-I-I-I will always love you.”
Sit somewhere peaceful with no distractions, and listen to the song with the volume turned up high. If you don’t feel chills, if you don’t turn into a puddle on the floor, you might be even less human than the CGI cast of Cats.
Has awards season turned into a very elaborate Snatch Game, the beloved RuPaul’s Drag Race segment in which contestants impersonate famous personalities? I’ve been obsessed with this thought ever since I saw Charlize Theron transform into right-wing TV personality Megyn Kelly in Bombshell, the Fox News workplace dramedy (riveting drama, involuntary comedy) about sexual harassment and abuse by former network CEO Roger Ailes. (Theron’s performance is nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Actress category.)
The toxic workplace environment takes precedent over the alt-right (read: racist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-environmentalist) culture Ailes elevated, which is seldom mentioned in the movie. Kelly, like her colleagues, helped spread some of these views, first at Fox News and then at NBC. She famously argued on-air that Jesus was a white person, and later defended blackface as an acceptable Halloween costume.
I felt conflicted after watching Theron, one of my favourite Hollywood actresses, give life to a nuanced version of Kelly as a victim of Ailes. I left the theatre thinking: “Bad things happen to bad people.” But as much as I disagree with Kelly’s politics, it’s obvious no one should be subject to harassment. Last week, Kelly released a video of an emotional conversation with three of her former Fox News colleagues in which they discuss Bombshell. Their descriptions of Ailes’ and other men’s behavior is seriously disturbing.
But that doesn’t explain why I couldn’t stop watching Theron mimicking one of the most polarizing figures in American media.
The real reason? It was a good Snatch Game performance. Theron had the voice, the mannerisms, the outfits—and a team behind her transformation. In Bombshell, Theron reveals the true camp nature of Kelly and her ilk by showing how over-the-top television punditry and the comfortable life it affords has little to do with “journalism,” and much more to do with performance.
Along with Theron’s Oscar nomination came one for Bombshell’s hair and makeup department. The team behind Theron’s look (read the riveting account here) completely transformed her facial structure. Academy Award-winning hair stylist Adruitha Lee (Dallas Buyers Club) styled Theron’s many wigs, and moved her hairline down her forehead. Upon learning Lee created some very fine hairwork for the Tonya Harding biopic, I, Tonya, I was instantly obsessed. I could just picture Hollywood actresses in a Drag Race-style workroom, finding the right wig and getting ready for their Snatch Game moment.
The person in charge of patching Theron’s face with silicon to mold her features into Kelly’s was another master, Japanese sculptor and visual artist Kazuhiro Tsuji, who reverse-aged Brad Pitt in the 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Tsuji went on to win an Oscar for his work on the 2017 Winston Churchill war biopic Darkest Hour, a job that had him returning to an industry he had left for his health. As he explained to New York magazine, he felt Hollywood had become “too toxic.”
The irony of Tsuji being in charge of prosthetics for Bombshell, a movie about a toxic workplace, isn’t lost on me.