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The Cat's Meow (2001)
Entertaining peek at Hollywood mystery... Jennifer Tilly shines!
THE CAT'S MEOW is a film that will probably only interest students of film lore and legend, but that is quite all right-the film expects a working-knowledge of Hearst, Davies, Chaplin and Parsons. The dialogue is witty and quick, in direct contrast to the direction. In this case it works and helps to underline the tension onboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht that weekend in 1924. Peter Bogdanovich provides a very steady, straightforward direction that suits this story well... he clearly has an affinity for this tale. Steven Peros' screenplay never feels extremely "stagey," though the intimacy of even a very large yacht may support a story that I assume was at some point a play. The actors do a fine-to-excellent jobs with their characters. Edward Herrmann is perfect as Hearst; his performance captured the loneliness and paranoia of WRH's life (at least if you believe much of "the legend.") Joanna Lumley is also very good, except her Elinor Glyn isn't given enough to do. The major disappointment-and it pains me tremendously to write this-is Kirsten Dunst. Dunst is the best younger actress in Hollywood today and should be given kudos for attempting this smaller period piece; that said, she is very much miscast as Marion Davies. In several scenes she simply seems uncomfortable. Dunst's role is the most difficult of the film however, and flaw does not rest squarely on the actress, but rather her character's development... we never "buy" the attraction between Davies and Chaplin, which is absolutely necessary for the plot. Still, Dunst is able to capture a bit of Davies' emotionally misguided relationship with the very paternal Hearst in their scenes together. Plus, she can Charleston well! The absolute best performance of the movie (and one of the best supporting performances of the year) belongs to Jennifer Tilly. Sure, Louella Parsons is THE CAT'S MEOW's most playful, comedic role... but Tilly nails it. She plays "Lolly" Parsons as a rather naive dim-wit upon her arrival on the yacht, but with each scene and each encounter Parson's makes, Tilly strips a bit of the green away and reveals the true animal that made Parson's a force in Hollywood for decades. Tilly's final scene with Herrmann has all the markings of a cliche, but Tilly pours so much into it and is so thoroughly believable, that is becomes a near-classic. A final note: it is very interesting to see this film and then listen to Peter Bogdanovich's commentary on the new CITIZEN KANE DVD. It may make a viewer appreciate this small gem a bit more!