With recent world events shutting down theaters and pushing films back into a TBD phantom zone, both audiences and pop cultures alike must look to streaming and VOD for that sweet, sweet Content. The new release options are, admittedly, bountiful. You could take in a clever, timely horror film with The Invisible Man. You can bask in a sultry forbidden romance with Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Or you can be like me, my friends, and descend into the milk-stained phantasmagoria known as Cats, the musical directed by an Oscar-winner, adapted from a Tony-winner, and only understood fully by the sleeping dread god Cthulu. I love this completely unhinged artifact of a film in a way that’s very close to Stockholm syndrome mixed with the final ego death moments of an LSD trip. Amid a global pandemic I paid $19.99 to own Cats. Forever. Like the Egyptians of old, I will be followed into the afterlife by Cats.
So after a few dozen viewings, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that the film’s climactic Jellicle Choice is an absolute goddamn travesty and needs to be discussed. I’m livid. It’s by far the biggest issue in my life right now. Please keep in mind this is all very serious.
What is the “Jellicle Choice”, exactly? Buddy, we as a society have been trying to figure that out since Cats debuted on the West End in 1981. The basic idea is that a tribe of cats called the Jellicles assemble once a year for an egregiously horny ball, where a few hopefuls are considered for the title of the Jellicle Choice. The winner ascends to the Heavyside Layer, which is cat heaven, and is (allegedly) reborn into a different life. Cats is a whimsical fantasy story about the screaming alley cats outside your apartment begging in unison for the sweet release of death.
But honestly, describing the film Cats by the play’s overarching plot is a futile endeavor because it’s not a story, it’s just a series of horrific moments strung together to create a train car of nightmares. Cats show up, sing a song that’s like “I am the cat who is an asshole / I eat all of the trash“, then leave. Idris Elba wears a costume that defies logic by somehow both existing and not existing on his body simultaneously, rendering him a level of nude previously unseen by the human eye. Rebel Wilson unzips her own skin in a moment David Cronenberg would’ve taken out of The Fly for being “a little much.” The main character is ostensibly a stray cat named Victoria (Francesca Hayward), who gets dumped on the street and surrounded by Jellicle Cats, who insist “a cat must have three different names.” Victoria ends the movie with one name. I have no idea what the hell that three name thing is all about. Let’s not discuss it any further.
Right, so, the Jellicle Choice. A sham operation. An utter boondoggle. Right off the bat, I must point out that the character making this choice is an impossibly ancient cat named Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), who shows up to this thing wearing a fur coat, one of the most horrific flexes of dictatorial power I’ve ever seen. Imagine if there was an episode of America’s Got Talent where Simon Cowell was just wearing a jacket made from human skin and nobody commented on it. I won’t apologize for not trusting the critical judgment of someone who has clearly murdered and will likely murder again.
But my god, the crop of contestants is so heinous it immediately calls into question the validity of the Jellicle Ball’s vetting process. You got James Corden‘s Bustopher Jones, whose whole thing is that he’d be murdered for gluttony in the movie Seven. Rebel Wilson’s Jennyanydots proudly displays an assembly of slave mice who live in a constant state of visible terror. Ian McKellen‘s Gus The Theatre Cat is an elderly actor who thinks millennial cats ruined the theatrical experience. If there is a version of Fox News in the Cats universe, Gus the Theatre Cat watches it religiously. (There is and it is run by actual foxes I am already 95 pages into this script.)
At this point, any sane person who has actually seen Cats would interject and remind me of Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat (Steven McRae). Of course I remember Skimbleshanks. Skimbleshanks occupies a good 70% of my waking thoughts. The sheer veracity of Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat’s tap-dancing abilities is so potent it is the only time the Cats movie remembers it is not actually a Broadway play and it can, in fact, change location. The point here is that by the time Old Deuteronomy gets around to making the Jellicle Choice, Skimbleshanks isn’t even a goddamn option, because the entire process is a Machiavellian grift that places no value in athletic prowess.
The events that do lead up to the Jellicle Choice are so erroneous I can hardly bear to think of them, but here we are. Throughout the film, the Jellicle Ball has been besieged by the villainous Macavity the Mystery Cat (Elba), who we are told, through a song sung by Taylor Swift, has “broken every human law.” This single line has horrifying implications that keep me awake at night, but I’m also obsessed with the logistics of a cat committing bank fraud. Taylor Swift is all “I know he cheats at cards” and it’s like lady go back to the time this cat successfully got away with vehicular manslaughter.
Either way, Macavity abducts Old Deuteronomy through legitimate real-life magic, which some cats can do. The rest of the Jellicles put the full responsibility of Deuteronomy’s safe return on the shoulders of Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson); by day an amateur magician, by night the lead vocalist for Panic! at the Disco. (Only one of these is stated outright in the film.) The entirety of the song “Mr. Mistofolees” is these Jellicle motherf*ckers blowing smoke up the ass of this poor David Blaine-ass cat, trying to will him to perform a Christ-like miracle and bring back their leader.
And you know what? He does it. Mr. Mistofolees defies science and logic and the natural order of the known universe by teleporting Old Deuteronomy back to the ball, and this ancient psychopath, who I must remind you is wearing a coat made from her deceased kin, looks Mr. Mistofolees dead-ass in his own face and sings from his own song—”Well I never was there ever a cat so clever as magical Mister Mistoffelees”, the fucking nerve—and at this point anyone who has ever read, seen, or heard a linear story at some point in their life kind’ve assumes that the cat who just revealed his literal godlike abilities is going to win the cat talent show and get the chance to go to cat heaven.
Nope. Grizabella the Glamour Cat (Jennifer Hudson) is the Jellicle Choice. I absolutely should have mentioned Grizabella earlier. Her song “Memory” is almost assuredly the only thing you’ve ever heard from Cats. It’s admittedly a banger, Hudson slays it so hard nobody on set could function long enough to hand her a tissue, and the lyrics are mostly about how Grizabella was a lot happier when she was famous and is now very sad because she is dirty and not famous. Old Deuteronomy is like, “Sold.” The way to win the Jellicle Choice is to be the most depressing, which pretty much confirms the whole enterprise as an extended assisted suicide run by a demonstrably insane racketeer. Just a completely demented experience, top to bottom. If the Heavyside Layer is real, none of us are making it. Cats ran for 18 years on Broadway, grossing $407 million. We allowed this. We allowed this.
So yeah, those are my general Cats thoughts. Check it out on-demand, it’s a trip. And stay safe out there. Wash your hands. Stay indoors if you can. Try to find something productive to do with your time or you might end up writing 1000+ words on the Jellicle Choice in Cats and that would be supremely embarrassing for all involved.