Cat Daddies is a surprisingly gorgeous visual document that indeed has plenty of cats and daddies, but is muddled in its stab at thematic development.
The Internet exists for precisely two reasons: porn and cat videos. Mye Hoang’s new documentary Cat Daddies may be missing the web’s more salacious elements, but it does feature a lot of very handsome and bearded men — the titular Daddies, if you will — playing with cats. If anything is true, it’s that there is an audience for such material; this critic showed up, after all. Cat Daddies takes an episodic approach to its subjects, highlighting various manly men in select parts of the United States as they tell their tales of how they became cat lovers, the talking head interviews interspersed with footage of all sorts of adorable feline frolicking. Only a few of the participants are afforded anything resembling depth, with most limited to a five-minute segment that basically amounts to cats playing against sun-dappled vistas and snuggling their burly owners. But a few do stand out in the crowd, mostly because Hoang actually returns to their stories over the course of the film’s brief runtime; for instance, the story of a disabled man in New York City by the name of David whose rescue of a stray named Lucky inspires him to continue persevering in the face of homelessness and cancer genuinely resonates. Indeed, it’s impossible not to be moved by his story, even though there are times when Hoang seems far more interested in the hunky, cat-loving police officer who helps him on his journey.
Make no mistake, Hoang is perversely interested in highlighting straight males, often taking the time to address their dating lives and rituals, as if to assure the viewer of their pronounced heterosexuality. It’s not hard to figure out what Hoang is up to: mainly, upending outdated cultural stereotypes that have long equated cat-love with femininity. Unfortunately, in the process, the filmmaker has simply reinforced roughly a dozen even more harmful cliches, to the point that the movie feels like a borderline offensive endorsement. It doesn’t help that a few of the segments here — such as one highlighting a New York City pioneer in the ever-growing trend of Trap-Neuter-Release, which ensures that cat populations become stagnant in specific areas — seem like thematic outliers, which Hoang attempts to address by adding some voiceover near film’s end about how compassion is a key part of being a Cat Daddy. Still, there’s no denying the surface pleasures inherent in Cat Daddies, with Hoang quite purposely using Cinemascope as a rather novel visual contrast to the endless hours of grungy and artless cat footage clogging the likes of YouTube and Instagram. This looks like a real movie, and a gorgeous one at that, often resembling a travelogue highlighting the natural beauty of the United States, with cats almost coincidentally doing their cute thing in the foreground. Yet despite all of the applause-worthy aesthetics on display, one wishes that Hoang had either been a little more focused in his thematics or simply abandoned anything resembling a thesis statement. Sometimes all that is needed in this world is a sexy fireman gently petting a purring feline’s head, cultural and intellectual weight be damned.
Published as part of Before We Vanish — October 2022.