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SIFF ADVANCE: Chatty Catties - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
SIFF ADVANCE: Chatty Catties
Directing: C-
Acting: C-
Writing: C+
Cinematography: C-
Editing: C+

Chatty Catties is maybe the funniest shitty movie I've ever seen. I literally had tears streaming down my cheeks, and it was from straightforward humor that was mean to be funny. Leonard the cat says at one point, "I vote we make sundaes and watch a nature documentary," and okay, in hindsight, maybe you had to be there. But that is one of many fundamental problems with this film: it's nearly impossible to contextualize.

The concept is certainly unique, and thus fascinating. This is a world in which all cat owners are able to communicate with their cats telepathically. Sometimes the cats make hilariously non sequitur comments, but often what they say makes total sense given they are cats: "I can't remember the last time I ate."

All of the cats are voiced by deaf or hard of hearing actors. Director and co-writer Pablo Valencia is trying to make a Profound Statement by doing this: cats and deaf people have nothing to do with each other, but deaf actors should be cast in roles that have nothing to do with their deafness. Making them the telepathic voices of cats is a little extreme (and thus potentially confusing), but whatever.

Leonard, our star cat, is voiced by young hard-of-hearing actor John Autry II. He was in attendance at the SIFF screenings over the weekend, and he had by far the most vibrant presence among a group that included the director, co-writer Dicky Bahto, and one of the composers. Valencia spoke about giving a voice those not often allowed to speak for themselves, acknowledged he was in that moment doing just that to John Autry, failed to acknowledge he was doing it to Bahto (who was never even given the microphone), and then continued to speak for the group. But we'll let that irony sit there as we get back to the movie itself.

Chatty Catties, even with its budget so low it felt like it was shot on a flipcam, had great potential and really could have been great. The themes of "agency" given to those often denied a voice are touched on but never fully developed. This is the kind of movie that college students could easily intellectualize as something brilliant, but let's face it: this is just a weird movie with some interesting ideas that ultimately go nowhere. Also, the acting is dreadful.

The one exception is arguably Autrey as Leonard. This movie is basically a sort of love triangle between that cat, his selfish bitch of a human, Shelby (Megan Hensley), and Shelby's new boyfriend Nate (Matthew Grathwol). Leonard is presented like a character with as much importance and self-actualization as any person, which is perhaps the point. The movie is also peppered with other humans and their cats, each with their own telepathic cat voices -- performed with widely varying degrees of skill -- and it's a long time before you realize none of these people know are even connected to Shelby or Nate or Leonard. Valencia says he did this to show that Leonard wasn't just this one "magic cat" but that he lived in a world of cats that could talk. Although a whole lot of the funniest lines (and to this movie's credit, there are many) come from these outsider cats, it was still confusing. At one point a woman and her cat discuss whether they're going to attend a friend's wedding, and I wondered if maybe all these other people and their cats would eventually be coming to Shelby and Nate's wedding. Nope.

None of these cats were trained, by the way. In most cases they were the actors' own cats, so they could at least sit and talk to their cats while their cats hung out comfortably in a familiar environment. This still makes for rather awkward staging, with cats clearly paying zero attention to their human companions (snoozing, grooming themselves, whatever), but with voice-over and lines meant to convey that they were engaged in a discussion. Sometimes this heightens the humor in an ironic way. Most of the time it's just weird.

Chatty Catties would have worked better if its humor alone were more consistent, but even that is spotty, with occasional entire exchanges that seem to have neither humor nor a point. Three scenes in the film do not include any cats at all, and spending any time alone with these actors without the animals becomes an instant endurance test. At least when a cat is onscreen you know something hilarious will be said eventually. This never happens with the humans. The humor that does work offers diminishing returns, with the laughs less and less frequent as it nears the end. Not even a somewhat thought provoking ending can save this hot feline mess.

Valencia told the audience about all the roadblocks they faced in the making of this film, including people who told them, "No one wants to watch a cat video this long." We see that wasn't entirely true, because some festival audiences clearly loved sitting through 84 minutes of this. You can bet it will be true of wide audiences, however, and this much is absolutely certain: Chatty Catties could have been cut down to a hilarious and brilliant five- or ten-minute short. Instead, it's a feature length trip through a meandering story with Big Ideas that never crystallize amidst a thoroughly wooden cast. And often hilarious cats.

chatty catties

Leonard (L) is a star.

Overall: C
1 comment or Leave a comment
From: mondoaggro Date: June 6th, 2015 01:09 am (UTC) (Link)

Dicky wh-wh-what?

Hi Cinemaholic!

I found your review while looking for reviews of Chatty Catties. I caught it at SIFF as well, and actually was one of those audience members who thought it was great and very funny. But heck, we're all entitled to our opinions!

I did have to comment on a fact though -- I met the Chatty Catties team at an afterparty and Dicky Bahto was nowhere to be found! The woman onstage was one of the producers! It's funny that you bring up the director not giving the others a chance to talk -- because I had a delightful conversation with the producer over martinis about the 70s sitcom Too Close For Comfort, baking apple strudel, and the plight of the Irish in the 1970's.

I wish she'd had some time to chat up there because she herself was a chatty cattie of sorts! But I digress.

Just wanted to point out that there was no Dicky and it was that delightful lady up there instead.

And with that, carry on, O'holic of Cinema! Vive la film!

--- Chandra
1 comment or Leave a comment