Kitty Mammas’ tagline is “That cat’s out of the womb.” That’s not metaphorical. That’s the plot.
Dr. Han (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, of The Mandalorian) is a down-on-his-luck doctor who initiates a medical trial to implant kitten embryos into participating women — paying them $20,000 for three months as guinea pigs — to see if it’s possible for a human to birth a kitten. How will it impact the mothers? The kittens?
The inherent absurdity of the plot is simple and compelling, but what’s surprising about Kitty Mammas is that, unlike other works of absurdist satire like Greener Grass, the premise is used here in as straightforward a fashion as possible to follow the very relatable and pretty “normal” lives of the pregnant women. There’s no constant escalation of absurdist imagery; the premise itself is hard to top. What seems at first to be just a lark turns into a character-driven comedy-drama.
Han enlists a documentary crew to keep tabs on the women over the course of the trial from signup to birth, and the story is told in mockumentary style. Story-wise, this means easy swapping between the ongoing lives of all the women: Rose (Morgan Kohan) a “crazy cat lady” blogger who wants another kitten for her and her precious cat; Sylvia (Janet Porter), a mom whose OCD husband and multiple kids make her life hectic; Maria (Vienna Hehir), who has mother issues but a supporting and loving wife; and Joan (Kathryn Kohut), who has really difficult debt issues and did it for the money. The three women all get their chance to shine comedically but also carry their characters through what is essentially an incredibly strange journey to motherhood.
The mockumentary style isn’t perfect, though. The storytelling utility of being able to swap between characters and stories at will also brings a difficulty of balancing those stories and moving along the narrative, particularly when some of the comedy bits don’t necessarily land. There’s a sense of improv to some of the characters’ more absurd moments, and they just don’t work.
That isn’t a big deal, only worth noting because most of the film is pretty heartfelt and fun. I just don’t want to overpromise: This is a film that takes some big swings with six principal characters and a crazy premise, and not every joke lands. Deep in the middle, it starts to feel like a collection of bits. It starts to drag, like the filmmakers produced so much material while filming and had such a good time that they weren’t sure where to cut. Frankly, it’s hard to blame them.
Sun-Hyung Lee provides an earnest nucleus at the center of the story. Worse casting or conception of the male scientist who chooses to impregnate women with cats could go extremely awry. His understated humor and good nature help writers Dennis Alexander Nicholson and Katrina Nicholson avoid that potential pratfall. (Dennis Nicholson also directed.) Han’s chemistry with Dr. MacKenzie (Helen Robbie), the project’s veterinarian with whom he has history, is pretty great, too. It’s a shame her evil ex-husband believes the whole experiment is an abomination and wants it to fail …
Kitty Mammas starts with a bizarre premise and finds a lot of human issues to explore within it — interpersonal issues, growing up, taking responsibility familial strife and, most of all, impending motherhood. The cast is great, the deadpan humor mostly works, and there are some pretty cute kittens at the end of it to boot.