In defense of “Cats” (2019)

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MAY 13, 2022

I watched the movie “Cats” — as many of you did — on a winter’s day in 2019, and it changed my life.

To be clear, this is Southern California we’re talking about: It was 70 degrees minimum, and I’m pretty sure I got Jamba Juice after. Still, the fact that it was winter is important somehow. The memory feels hazy and soft; like an old hero’s tale, I entered the movie theater with a reluctant friend in tow and left a completely different person.

All of this is to say that 2019 was a new beginning for me. It was the start of my three-year stint of defending “Cats” to anyone who would listen.

It isn’t easy being a defender of bad movies, but maybe that’s why I enjoy it so much — I’ve got my work cut out for me. Like Sisyphus, I struggle; I fight tooth and nail just to get people to look beyond the grotesque CGI and nonsensical plot. It took a while to get the hang of it, but by now I’ve developed a pretty good angle of attack.

“But didn’t you have fun?” I like to ask when preaching to the naysayers. Sometimes they even listen. “Didn’t you laugh over all the viral tweets and bad reviews? Didn’t it add something to your life, just for a moment?”

I probably used a variation of the same argument — entertainment versus art, enjoyment versus assessment and so on — a hundred times in the months after “Cats” came out. At first, it was a funny bit to use here and there, but somehow, I wanted more. It wasn’t enough to claim that “Cats” was “campy” or “funny” or “so bad that it’s good.” I needed people to think that it was an unironically good movie.

I’ve been telling people in the arts department that I would write this article ever since the film came out: The great “Cats” defense, by yours truly. Three years later, that moment has come — and I don’t have much to say.

There’s something strange about outgrowing your old opinions. It took me a while to realize, but I’ve developed so much of my identity around being a contrarian.

In 2019, I was a “Cats” defender; in 2009, I was telling everyone that Kevin Jones was “underappreciated.” My need to contradict started early, and I couldn’t stop myself from feeling different from other people — so why not lean into it? Why not make a spectacle of it?

But there comes a time in everyone’s life when they have to confront themselves. Do you like the 2019 movie “Cats,” or do you like being the only person with that opinion?

Days before I graduate college, I’m finally asking myself this question.

Full disclosure: I think there’s a lot to love about the movie — the choreography; the unintentional humor; the jaw-dropping rendition of “Memory.” Watching “Cats” feels like biting the apple; like divine knowledge that humans were never supposed to learn; like a scientific experiment turning against its creator.

But that doesn’t make it good — it really, really doesn’t.

I was 19 years old when I first saw “Cats.” I’m almost 22 now, and I know that I can’t go through life turning every disagreement into a crusade. Sure, it might be trendy to be ironic and to champion bad media and to exaggerate every opinion to the point of satire, but the age of the “hot take” won’t last forever. What will last is the identity I’m creating, and I’ve decided that life feels better when I stop trying to make a caricature of myself.

I don’t need to be Lauren the “defender of bad movies.” I can just be Lauren, who likes musicals and doesn’t understand cinematography enough to critique it.

Much ado about nothing, I suppose, but giving up “Cats” feels like the first genuinely mature thing I’ve done in a while. I don’t want to leave UC Berkeley being the girl with the chip on her shoulder, picking the underdog just to complain about losing. I’d really just rather be me.

What a strange realization, huh?

Contact Lauren Sheehan-Clark at 


MAY 13, 2022