The Cat's Meow
A lavish weekend cruise for Hollywood celebrities aboard William Randolph Heart's yacht turns deadly when a passenger is shot.
Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst's yacht sets sail out of a Los Angeles harbor with a bevy of Hollywood shakers and players as guests, all anticipating a fun-filled party weekend. Among the passengers are Hearst himself (Edward Herrmann), his mistress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), movie star Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), pioneer Hollywood producer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes), New York film critic Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) and famous British novelist Elinor Glyn (Absolutely Fabulous Joanna Lumley). However star-studded, the cruise cannot be smooth sailing: Hearst suspects that famous womanizer Chaplin and Davies are having an affair, Chaplin is haunted by the prospect of a shotgun wedding with an underage bride-to-be, Ince is desperate to get Hearst to back his fading career, Parsons is determined to land a West Coast job with the Hearst papers and Glyn relishes scandal. A live orchestra and ample booze fuel several days of merriment until one of the passengers mysteriously dies. A conspiracy of cover-up and bribery manages to keep the tragic circumstances under wraps as the victim is laid to rest. Since mysterious death of this real Hollywood denizen remains unsolved to the present day, the facts that 1) the suspects are some of the most recognizable people in Hollywood and 2) the events as supposed here take place on William Randolph Hearst's lavish yacht add to the fun and the unexpected final tragedy.
Performances all around are terrific. Herrmann is perfectly cast as the media titan who knows how to show his guests a good time. Dunst perhaps gives the most convincing and nuanced performance of her career as the beauty with brains and compassion. Izzard, in the unfortunate position of having to follow Robert Downey Jr.'s brilliant Oscar-nominated turn as the legendary comic, doesn't really look like Chaplin but convinces as one of moviedom's brightest lights. Tilly is more Tilly than the oft-photographed and plump Louella Parsons but is pleasingly off-center as a naïf who can conspire. And Lumley, who also narrates this naughty mystery, is perfectly cast as the insinuating scribe with a taste for the sensational.
After eight years in TV land, Peter Bogdanovich makes a triumphant return to the big screen. It doesn't hurt that the director is a Hollywood insider with critically acclaimed credits and a weakness for some of his leading ladies who has also had his own share of scandal. Working with a terrific script by Steve Peros, who adapted his hit play, and with fine actors and crew, Bogdanovich delivers an intriguing mystery for our time, mined from actual events that took place in 1924. The real-life incidents that inspired this tale remain clouded in uncertainty, but Bogdanovich delivers a very plausible what-if that even he believes to be close to the truth.
The Cat's Meow has all the ingredients for delicious entertainment and, thanks to great direction and acting and a strong script, it delivers on all counts.