In the feature film Chatty Catties, director and co-writer Pablo Valencia creates an alternative universe wherein house cats speak to and are understood by their humans. The movie’s not for kids; it’s a genuine comedy made for adults.
I’ll admit that, when I first heard about the picture, I was a little skeptical, but I had the wrong idea. I’m more of a dog person, but Chatty Catties is so funny, strange and insightful, it actually made me want to go to the shelter and get a cat.
Megan Hensley stars as Shelby, a 20-something hipster who lives alone with her cat, Leonard, voiced by John Autry II. Shelby’s a dental assistant by day and an aspiring filmmaker in her free time. She’s got a romantic interest named Nate (Matthew Grathwol). We meet the couple in those first, agonizing stages of a courtship. Neither party wants to appear too eager, and so every interaction is dissected, analyzed and fretted over.
When the cat asks, “What does your last text from him say?” it’s so funny and painful, I nearly died. The film will not make you nostalgic for your 20s if you’ve already lived through them.
Besides Leonard and Shelby, other cats and their owners are featured briefly throughout the film in tiny vignettes disconnected from the central story. The cats speak and behave like people, with the usual quirks you might expect from a sentient feline. “I don’t like riding in moving cars,” says one cat, for example. The humans are not at all astonished by their talking animals. Generally, they fill the role of friend, confidant and sometimes adversary.
All of the cats in the film are voiced by hearing impaired actors, and Valencia had interesting reasons for this. In his own words:
“I wanted the cats to sound different from the humans and I wanted a way to communicate the film’s themes. Casting deaf and hard-of-hearing actors allowed me to do that; it also gave these actors an opportunity to play the kinds of roles that they are not normally offered, roles in which their hearing loss is not part of the plot. Learning about deaf culture and working with these actors was truly a rewarding experience.”
Every cat characterization is excellent, particularly that of John Autry II, who gets some of the best lines in the film. Some tension exists between Leonard and his human. Shelby has been drinking a lot lately and seems largely un-self aware of her increasing sloppiness. Meanwhile, Leonard’s super into Nate. It almost plays like a crush, in that harmless way that animals grow to favor one person over another. One particularly choice jab: When Shelby walks in during Nate’s solo guitar performance, Leonard announces, “Here comes Yoko!”
In between the jokes, there’s also a true and genuine human story going on between the players in Chatty Catties. I worry about Shelby, and I can see what Leonard sees in Nate. Among other things, this is a film about our responsibilities to the people we love, our responsibilities to ourselves and what happens when we neglect those roles.
Chatty Catties opens at Northwest Film Forum this Friday, September 9 at 10pm, with two additional showings on September 17 and October 9.