Hey folks, Harry here with our hero for hire, Luke Cage... who decided to be a girly man and read WHEN THE CAT'S AWAY... What possessed this badass mutha to read this.. I don't know, perhaps he enjoyed NEXT STOP WONDERLAND like me. Hmmm...
Reasonable rates, satisfaction guaranteed… Luke Cage, Hero For Hire is here to help you. Hey Harry, read your article on Miramax's ShoWest promos, so I thought I'd share with you my take on a Miramax film slated for 2001 release, Brad Anderson's WHEN THE CAT'S AWAY.
While fighting evil in New York City, I heard scuttlebutt about Brad Anderson (most famous for Next Stop Wonderland) filming his next movie on location in beautiful Little Italy. So I used my superhard skin and amazing strength to score a copy of the script, and now I pass on my review. To be clear, this is the shooting draft, dated February 4th, and this is the script being sent to prospective cast members. But shooting will start in June, so changes are still possible.
The film, to be directed by Anderson and co-written by him and two of his buds (Lyn Vaus, who we saw as Virginia in "Man of the Century" and Cara Buono from "Happy Accidents") Heather Graham is the only person confirmed in the cast, and she'll almost certainly be the main character, Chloe. Our heroine is an interior designer, who's recently broken up with her longtime banker boyfriend. They had a Plan: Chloe would design beautiful buildings, the boyfriend would finance them, and Michael, a gay real estate broker and Chloe's best friend, would sell them. Now that she's left her boyfriend though, the Plan is out the window. Her only companion is her cat, Hamlet, a constant companion and (as the movie keeps hinting) her substitute for a romantic relationship.
So Chloe moves to an apartment in Little Italy and starts working for Pauline, an interior designer who's renovating a old butcher's shop into a ultra-modern club called "Meat." Feeling worn out, she takes a vacation and leaves her cat with her neighbor Amelia, an eighty-year old Italian widow who already has a dozen cats in cute identical sweaters. What do you think happens? (Hint: read the title again.) Chloe heads into Little Italy, looking for her cat, but in the process, she's going to meet folks very different from herself, and be changed by the experience.
Let's start with the good points of the script. First of all, like Next Stop Wonderland, the ending isn't obvious. With most romantic films, you have a leading character, the object of his/her desires, and of course they're going to hook up. This script doesn't make it that easy. Chloe meets a few men as she searches for her cat, and she can choose which to go out with, or to stay alone if she wishes. Another good point is the strong female support: Chloe's boss Pauline and their client, Margot, are fleshed out characters. They're both insecure, like Chloe herself. Pauline covers for it by being overbearing and aggressive, and Margot just acquiesces and stays quiet. Through Chloe, they start to find their footing in the world. Lastly, the script explores a little (pizza) slice of life in Little Italy. Lots of movies use Italian neighborhoods just as a backdrop for Mafia stories or poverty dramas, and this seems to be the first film since Moonstruck (Cher and Nicolas Cage waaaay back when) to explore the lighter side: friendly folk, a few oddballs, and a real sense of community and mutual support. I especially like the "Sons of San Garibaldi Social Club," a poker-playing bunch in the back of a video store that only rents films by Audy Murphy, Sinatra and Brando.
I'm sorry to say, though, that the weak points of the script are more numerous and overpowering. All the men in this movie are stupid stereotypes. Michael is every gay extreme: flighty, overly emotional, and jumping from man to man. He should have been a three dimensional character, but he is absolutely unbelievable as Chloe's best friend. Conversely, Enzo, a friendly half-wit local guy who helps in the cat search should have been the comic relief; instead the script forces him to be an inscrutable wise man who supposedly opens Chloe's eyes to the beauty of the neighborhood. That discovery, IMO, should be Chloe's alone, considering that it's one of the main points of the script. The rest of the male characters are stupid paper-thin plot devices, not even worth mentioning.
Additionally, there's too many old women in this script, each one a poor copy of the trademarked old Italian woman clichÃ©. There's a totally useless side story about Lydia, an old woman who used to be a singer but lost her nerve. Amelia, the old woman who lost Chloe's cat, could have been interesting with her side story about a cheating husband and how she's hid behind her cats for decades in lieu of a real relationship. Her story and development could have been a parallel to Chloe's, but instead she's portrayed as a doddering, bitter woman.
But the script's biggest failure is a general… lack of romance. Heather Graham has serious work cut out for her in this role. Chloe alternates between monkish solitude while pining for her cat or her man (as I said before, the notion of a cat being a relationship substitute comes up often in this script) and just throwing herself at any man in range. She gets rejected, she rejects other men, and the whole thing is just a senseless whirlwind without any real purpose or destination. By the end of the script, relationships have become irrelevant to Chloe in the wake of the personal changes brought on by the search for her cat, which makes the eventual romantic ending seems so tacked on. I'm sorry Brad, really, but your script is only funny in patches, and not romantic in the slightest.
But there is hope… After all, shooting doesn't even begin until June. There's still time to revise. The key people in this script should be Chloe, Pauline, Amelia and Margot, and how one person's search for her cat becomes a pathway to a little positive growth for all four women, instead of this muddle of romance. Use Little Italy more, since Chloe's absorption into the local culture is an important subplot. Lose Enzo completely, because he's not worth the one running joke the script milks from him (an annoying Tarzan yell, never mind why) and let's see the neighborhood through the eyes of someone who's just beginning to look around. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Also, don't waste Little Italy as a location. Immerse Chloe in the neighborhood, let her explore more, and the film will be worth shooting on location.
So far, Brad Anderson's subverted the normal "chick flick" formula in his previous films. He's shown that just because a film is about romance, it doesn't have to be saccharine and trite. And he's obviously trying to do it again in WHEN THE CAT'S AWAY. But he's not there yet. Good characters and stories are buried under non-essential kissy-face and stunted development, and I think they can be unearthed and cleaned up. Much luck to you, Brad.
And if any of you out there have a problem, I remain… Luke Cage, Hero For Hire.