A review of  The Cat's Meow” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for sexuality, adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

 

 

The seamy side of 1920s Hollywood is fully, but dully, realized in director Peter Bogdanovich’s ode to megalomaniac William Randolph Hearst and his band of merry men (and women).

The stage is ripe for scandal.  Hearst (Edward Herrmann) and his young lover Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst) are throwing a fun-and-frolic weekend aboard Hearst’s yacht, ostensibly to celebrate the birthday of film pioneer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes).  On board for the birthday bacchanalia are brilliant but self-absorbed Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), eccentric British novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley of “AbFab” fame), and social-climbing gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly), among others.

Bootleg whiskey and frenetic Charleston competitions give way to more illicit nocturnal activities. Musical rooms, stealth-mission style. Coloring the weekend’s casual frivolity is Hearst’s seething jealousy over Davies’ maybe/maybe not love affair with Chaplin, which culminates in midnight espionage, a stolen love letter, and a dramatic moment of tragedy.

Sounds juicy, no?  Inside the lives of the rich and famous with a paranoid scoundrel at the helm and loads of delicious gossip to fuel the journey. Hearst’s sumptuous yacht and the foppish period costumes are a decadent backdrop for scandal.  Unfortunately, the disreputable doings and exquisite trappings are dampened by a lackluster script and substandard performances.                

Dunst appears clumsy and self-conscious, but ever-so-slowly warms to her role as the coquettish but devoted lover to her uber-wealthy Sugar Daddy. Izzard plays it fast and loose with Chaplin, whose agenda is to spirit the beautiful actress away from the richest man in the world (with a disappointing lack of oomph).  Elwes’ Ince, determined to seal a partnership with Hearst,  gives off an uncomfortably desperate vibe.  Tilly is a screeching, annoying shrew, best left out altogether.  Only Herrmann, as the Host With the Most, generates drama when the going gets stale. 

A satisfying climax relieves the tedium – better late than never.