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The Cat's Meow (2002)
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Review Date: August 19, 2002
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Writer: Steven Peros
Producers: Julie Baines, Kim Bieber
Actors:
Kirsten Dunst
Edward Herrmann
Cary Elwes
Plot:
A cast of big shots (including Charlie Chaplin) from the early 1920s get invited onto publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst's yacht for the birthday celebration of one of its Hollywood producer boat guests. Based on an actual circumstance, whose facts no one can truly confirm, the festivities ultimately turn sour when one member of the party is killed. Meow, indeed.
Critique:
Sometimes all it takes to make a solid movie is a director with something to prove, a juicy rumored Hollywood tale about something wicked that once happened (but that no one can confirm), a bunch of interesting characters stuck together on a boat, solid actors and some good tunes. Of course, the tunes in this case would be peppy stuff from the 20s, but what can I tell you...I dig that vibe, and if you slap cutie-pie Kirsten Dunst into the mix...I'm there with bells on! (and pants off...thank you very much!) The truth is that I was absolutely dreading this movie after I happened to be one of the few critics on the entire planet not to wet my pants all over last year's wondrously overrated borefest GOSFORD PARK (there are a number of similarities between the two pictures), but thankfully for me, this film actually presented a number of well-rounded characters, intelligible dialogue and a nice mystery within its believable environment of the day. While I'm on the subject, props go out to the costume and production designers of this film, both of whom did excellent jobs in their respective fields to make this picture look as authentic as you'd think. The characters are second on my props list, with most everyone coming through as their specific personas, most especially Edward Herrman as the surprisingly vulnerable William Randolph Hearst (that's right, CITIZEN KANE himself!) and Eddie Izzard, the normally over-the-top and annoying British version of Robin Williams, playing a restrained but credible version of a horny Charlie Chaplin.

Other notables included Joanna Lumley as the inquisitive writer Elinor Glyn and l'il Kirsten Dunst herself, once again proving to the world that she can take on pretty much any character and rope us along for the ride. It is to note, however, that the real-life Marion Davies (whom Dunst portrays) was 27 years old when she was dating Hearst, but Dunst doesn't really look a day over 16 here. Oh well. There was one stick in the mud in terms of casting however, and that was Jennifer Tilly. My God...didn't anyone notice that her character seemed to be in another movie?! Over-the-top, grating voiced and as loud as she wants to be...Tilly stuck out like a sore thumb among the more accomplished of the cast, but thankfully didn't really play a big part in the movie. Another thing that I liked about this flick was that I didn't know much about it going in, other than the fact that someone was going to get killed, and as it moved forward, and I actually started giving a shit about most of its characters, I was genuinely curious to see what would happen next (a good sign of a mystery). I also dug the "love triangle" that was bubbling beneath it all, both sides of which came across as heartfelt and sincere. And that was yet another piece of the puzzle which I was intrigued to see work out. The film might've been cut by about 10-15 minutes, as some of the first hour did start to feel a tad redundant, but I appreciated it overall, really got a good sense of the time, place and characters, and especially enjoyed seeing this debatable "historical event" play out. If the topic, the setting and the "mysterious circumstance" peak your curiosity...I suspect that you too will enjoy this original and entertaining piece of cinema. Now Charleston!!
(c) 2014 Berge Garabedian
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