The Cat's Meow

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
The Cat's Meow Movie Poster Image
This story about a possible murder isn't for kids.
  • PG-13
  • 2002
  • 112 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.




Frequent sexual references and situations, including adultery


Some strong language

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Illegal alcohol, smoking, drug reference

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that adultery is a theme of the movie and frequently discussed. A character is shot, possibly accidentally. Characters smoke, drink (illegally) and briefly use drugs. The movie has strong language and sexual situations (not explicit).

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What's the story?

Set in the 1920s, THE CAT'S MEOW centers on a scandal involving powerful newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (Edward Hermann). When Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes), one of Hollywood's biggest filmmakers and the creator of Western movies, dies after a visit to Hearst's yacht, the incident is officially recorded and reported in Hearst's newspapers as "natural causes." But rumors circulate. In flashbacks, we see guests arrive on the yacht, including writer Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley), Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), and Hearst's longtime mistress actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst). The movie presents the most popular rumor about that day and the cause of Ince's death.

Is it any good?

Peter Bogdanovich's movie is a loving recreation of a classic era for the film industry, with impeccable performances by Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin. Izzard has one of the most difficult challenges an actor can face -- portraying someone whose face and manner are so well documented that they will be familiar to many viewers. Izzard evokes Chaplin; she does not impersonate him. And she gives us a portrait of Chaplin that is rich, complex, and intimate. We see the genius, the charm, the discipline in some things and lack of discipline in others, the neediness, and the self-awareness.

As sensational novelist Elinor Glyn, Joanna Lumley delivers devastating commentary with scrumptious bite, timed down to the nanosecond. Edward Hermann and Kirsten Dunst are also memorable. Bogdanovich's mistake is in thinking that everyone is naturally as fascinated with the story and the era as he is, and so he does not have to do any work to draw the audience into the story. For that reason, it all comes across as a little too precious and distant.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the 1920's differ from current times – and how they were the same. Who is most like Hearst today? Why was Davies so important to Hearst? Why was she so important to Chaplin? What was important to her?

Movie details

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