The Cat’s Meow

by Tom Ingram

Genre Comedy; History
People Edward Herrmann; Kirsten Dunst; Eddie Izzard; Cary Elwes; Joanna Lumley; Jennifer Tilly; Peter Bogdanovich d.; Ian Whitcomb m.
/10 9

A clique of Hollywood elites gather for a birthday party aboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht. The lecherous Charlie Chaplin (Izzard) tries to seduce Hearst’s mistress, the stunning Marion Davies (Dunst), while film mogul Thomas H. Ince (Elwes) looks for an angle to manipulate his way into a partnership with Hearst (Herrmann).

This is a period drama based on a play—prime Oscar material, but surprisingly not nominated for anything. As one would expect, the sets and costumes are lavish, the music is good, and the whole thing moves along with admirable economy. Surprisingly, though, there’s more to it than that. The film is a remarkable little parable of the moral confusion that arises in a sleazy money-pit like Hollywood. It’s little more than a filmed play on an apparently continuous Firefly-style set, but the script has some good lines in it and says its piece without getting too big for its britches.

Edward Herrmann, amazingly, gets us to sympathize with William Randolph Hearst. As a big jolly John Goodman-type character, he seems harmless and loveable even in his darker moments. Also worth noting is Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin like you’ve never seen him before. Izzard is surely one of the greatest stand-ups who ever lived, but his skill as an actor is woefully under-appreciated. I can scarcely believe that the man sincerely trying to convince us that while, yes, he does have a history of impregnating 16-year-old girls, he’d still be an ideal romantic partner is the same person as the man who did this stuff.

The movie gets only a tad preachy right at the end, when it reiterates its point in case you missed it the first time round. That’s quite possibly the only bad thing you can say about it.

1h52m; 2001; Colour