The Cat's Meow

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The Cat's Meow

Director Peter Bogdanovich's first theatrically released film since 1993's disastrous The Thing Called Love, The Cat's Meow finds him delving into Hollywood's storied past. A companion piece to E. Elias Merhige's Shadow Of The Vampire, Meow similarly uses a real-life film-world situation to frame a fictionalized look at the dysfunctional relationships between the parasites both before and behind the camera. Set in 1924, The Cat's Meow takes place aboard the yacht of legendary newspaperman William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann), where celebrities have gathered to help celebrate the birthday of fading film pioneer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes). As Elwes desperately seeks to merge his struggling film company with Herrmann's, Herrmann becomes understandably concerned with keeping an eye on his mistress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), whom he suspects is having an affair with rakish womanizer Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard). As a filmmaker and historian, Bogdanovich is no stranger to Hollywood or period pieces, and for its first hour, The Cat's Meow takes delight in navigating a web of ambition, desperation, and backstabbing among its high-powered but insecure guests. The film darkens considerably in its second half, however, as murder enters the picture and Herrmann is forced to test the limits of his power. Adapted by Steven Peros from his own play, The Cat's Meow introduces more colorful characters than it knows what to do with—including Joanna Lumley as wry English author Elinor Glyn and Jennifer Tilly as ditzy, ambitious gossip columnist Louella Parsons—but the surprisingly poignant relationship between Dunst and Herrmann keeps the film afloat. Bogdanovich doesn't shy away from exposing his protagonist's famously nasty side, but he's also surprisingly gentle in depicting the fragility and depth of Dunst and Herrmann's feelings for each other. In a revelatory performance, Herrmann captures the arrogance and vulnerability of a man who can control the fates of presidents, movie stars, and wars, but lives in mortal fear that a pretty young actress will grow tired of him. Like the handsomely mounted but misanthropic and dull Shadow Of The Vampire, The Cat's Meow faithfully recreates a bygone era of larger-than-life filmmakers and stars. Unlike Vampire, however, Bogdanovich and Peros' dream world is populated with characters worthy of the time spent with them.

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