Release Date(s)2019 (April 14, 2020)
Studio(s)Related Pictures/Filmrise (MVD Visual)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: D
Alex Wolff is a triple threat as writer, lead actor, and director of the indie flick The Cat and the Moon. He stars as Nick, a high-school kid who comes to New York from Detroit while his Mom is in rehab. His first question when he gets out of the cab is, “You got any weed?” Nick is staying with jazz musician Cal (Mike Epps), a colleague of his late father and a longtime friend of both of Nick’s parents.
Cal serves as Nick’s low-key guardian while his mother recuperates and signs him up at the local high school. On his first day, Nick meets fellow stoners Seamus (Skylar Gisondo) and goofy, loudmouth Russell (Tommy Nelson). They introduce him into a party scene heavy on drugs and alcohol. Nick responds enthusiastically because he’s never had friends like these before. Nick is eventually introduced to Seamus’ girlfriend, Eliza (Stefania LaVie Owen), and there’s an immediate mutual attraction.
We gradually learn that Nick is harboring a lot of pent-up rage about his father’s accidental (or possibly suicidal) death from years earlier. Having developed emotional defensiveness while living in a home with emotional instability, he has to confront the demons that affected both of his parents. Their legacy of addiction and depression may be manifesting themselves in Nick. Though Nick is usually calm—even mellow—he occasionally loses control, as in a violent fight at a house party and an emotional breakdown with Cal. In this coming-of-age film, Nick must deal with acclimating to a new place, peer pressure, and budding romance, as well as deep-seated resentments.
The Cat and the Moon is semi-autobiographical; Wolff grew up in New York and his father is a jazz musician. He was 21 when he made the film, and doesn’t look young enough to be a high school kid. He handles the introspective scenes effectively and the chemistry between him and co-star Owen works nicely. There’s an ease of performance and his Nick is comfortable and open with her Eliza. She represents a welcome sympathetic companion in his new environment.
As director, Wolff has cast the film intelligently. Gisondo and Nelson are both good actors and add some humor with their candid takes on other kids, adults, and the world at large. Nelson is the very definition of “scene stealer” with his unfiltered, motor-mouth declarations. Ms. Owen projects a pleasant temperament and seems out of place as the girlfriend of a guy who cheats on her and doesn’t do a good job concealing it. Eliza looks to Nick as a kindred soul. Both have an undercurrent of sadness and their attraction makes sense, emotionally and dramatically. Wolff also knows the power of close-ups to convey emotion. Nick’s most revealing thoughts are shown as reactions or contemplative moments.
Though the story is about teenage angst, Wolff takes us on an interesting ride as Nick meets new people and navigates a world both familiar and new. Rather than overload the script with wiseguy comments or broad comedy, Wolff develops his characters carefully. Each member of Nick’s circle is unique.
As to how the film is shot, Wolff doesn’t go out of his way to be flashy, as many first-time directors do to draw attention to their expertise. He has enough faith in his own screenplay to let it be the film’s centerpiece. Anthony Savini’s photography is traditional, with most shots filmed from eye level or low angles. Apart from a few street scenes, most of the sequences are interiors, so we never get the full flavor of New York City. At nearly two hours, the film could use some cutting, since there are places where the narrative sags, but it’s an admirable directorial debut.
The Region A Blu-ray release from Filmrise and MVD Visual, featuring 1080p resolution, is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.38:1. The majority of the film was shot indoors, and vary from the home of Cal, Nick’s temporary guardian, to the crowded, loud house parties that Nick and his new friends attend. Cal’s home is warmly illuminated by lamps and recessed kitchen lighting. In one scene, in Nick’s bedroom, it is almost completely dark except for the glow of Nick’s cell phone revealing a barely discernible outline of him in bed. The party scenes are well lit but occasionally the features of key actors as they dance are blurred by extras passing in front of them. In a restaurant scene, accent lighting behind the actors highlights the decorative brickwork walls. The night scenes were filmed on location on New York City streets, probably very late at night, judging by their emptiness. These vary from muted lighting for medium shots and brighter lighting for long shots, with the friends walking side by side on the sidewalk.
The soundtrack featuring English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-High Definition Master Audio (with optional subtitles in English SDH) is well balanced. Dialogue is clear throughout, even when characters speak quickly. An early scene, in which Nick meets Seamus and Russell in the school’s bathroom, has a bit of an echo, as would be expected. The mixing of the party scenes is good, with music and chatter never obscuring the key dialogue. Fight scenes sound realistic, with body punches and body pounding effects added to make the scenes look and sound authentic.
Though listed as a Special Edition, this Blu-ray release hardly merits the term since the only bonus materials are the film’s theatrical trailer and a photo gallery.
Photo Gallery – Stills from the film are shown in slideshow form along with candid behind-the-scenes photos. The individual stills cannot be frozen or moved ahead quickly.
– Dennis Seuling