Despite times changing, the stereotype of the “crazy cat lady” sadly stands firm. Back in 2000, even male icon Robert De Niro couldn’t convert dog-loving men into feline fathers with his withering argument in Meet the Parents: “Cats make you work for their affection. They don’t sell out the way dogs do.”
Director Mye Hoang takes a gentler approach with her documentary feature debut, Cat Daddies, which simply gives us a peek inside the daily routines of men whose cats make their lives better. (The film is available on VOD beginning Friday.) To fit the feline theme, Hoang follows nine lives across the country — from a stuntman working in Hollywood to a disabled immigrant living on the streets of New York City. She strikes a delicate balance between a lighthearted portrait of interspecies bonding and poignant exploration of how animals relieve us from our harsh realities.
The film starts by emphasizing the stigma surrounding men with pet cats. Actor and influencer Nathan Kehn leans into the jokes with his social media handle, “Nathan the Cat Lady,” and his videos in which he lifts his kitties like weights, among other things. But he’s dead serious when he says he wouldn’t give up his fur babies for anyone, including a girlfriend. This summarizes the tone of the film, which ultimately favors sincerity over snark.
The heart of the film lies in the relationship between David Giovanni, a homeless, unemployed construction worker, and his cat, Lucky. “That little creature saved my life,” he says in one of many interviews that will leave you lumpy-throated and misty-eyed. Some of the conversations between David and his friend, New York City policeman Chris Alese, can feel a bit forced in the way Chris glosses over David’s problems to harp on how Lucky will help him overcome them. However, that’s fitting because the film itself serves as a similar reminder that cats help us persevere and put our best selves forward.
If “being a good man” is about showing compassion and putting the needs of others above your own, what better way to do so than as a cat dad? Why do we act like it’s so strange for men to love cats when it expresses such a healthy form of masculinity? Do we expect them to be more toxic? Hoang raises tough questions but never with a heavy hand.
Feline enthusiasts will eat this film up like catnip but not just because they’re the target audience. This film not only eloquently confirms why we love cats; it also shows initial skeptics that they weren’t alone in buying into certain misconceptions. As one guy talked about thinking cats were “moody and aloof,” I laughed out of recognition and turned to find one of my five cats dispelling that myth by curling up next to me.
The film is insightful and enlightening, but it’s also a ravishing travelogue. You’ll marvel at Tora the Trucker Cat as she and her owners hike all around the country, and you’ll watch with wonder as Zulu climbs tall trees right in his backyard of Boulder Creek, California.
Cat Daddies is more than just a cute piece of “cat-tainment.” Sure, it has plenty of friendly felines to feast your eyes upon, but it also gives us something to bond over in these divisive times. Even the biggest cat detractors won’t be able to help but smile.