Friday, February 23, 2018

Are We Not Cats

This is one semi-rom-com that should definitely carry a “don’t try this at home” warning. Seriously kids, drinking antifreeze is bad for you and eating hair is even worse. Yet, two potential lovers share that feline habit in Xander Robin’s Are We Not Cats (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Even shaggy-haired Eli would call himself a luckless loser. When his father decides to pick up stakes for Arizona, he leaves Eli a cargo cube truck that becomes his home and only source of irregular employment. One haul upstate connects him with Kyle, a born user, who drags him to a club, where the nebbish sad sack is thunderstroke by the jerk’s girlfriend, Anya.

She is an ultra-hipster, who wears a wig, because she has chowed down on all her hair. (In contrast, Eli just nibbles on his mane a little, as a nervous tic.) She is unusually sweet for a club kid, but she is unhealthily codependent on the abusive Kyle. Nevertheless, Eli will take his shot, thereby inflaming Kyle’s jealousy. However, puncturing Eli’s tires, leaving him stranded at Anya’s place as a result, probably is probably not the most effective way of lashing out. Then potential tragedy strikes, testing Eli’s judgement and our stomachs.

AWNC earned a lot of admirers for its sudden detour into body horror, but it takes a long time getting there. For a good deal of the film, viewers will just feel like they are standing around watching Eli being awkward and uncomfortable. We respect Robin’s interest for these extremely marginalized characters, but he makes us work pretty hard for it. Also, the big shocking sequence totally strains credulity, which is a legit issue, considering how gritty and grimy the film is most of the time.

Still, Chelsea Lopez really announces herself as a talent to watch with her performance as Anya. She clearly has a remarkable knack for expressing much with very few words. Michael Patrick Nicholson also makes a compelling sad sack and develops some earnestly engaging chemistry with Lopez.

This is the kind of film you will want to like more, especially if you have heard the raves coming out of genre festivals. The tone is somewhat uneven, with weird dashes of Wes Anderson and Shinya Tsukamoto (of Tetsuo fame) thrown in, but it is always grungy to a fault. Still somewhat worth seeing, but more as sign of promising things to come than a film to love and get swept up in, Are We Not Cats opens today (2/23) in New York, at the Cinema Village.