WHY IS THIS A THING, PEOPLE?
Do you like cats? Stupid question, you’re on the internet. We can see that you’ve got a tab open with all sorts of cat videos and gifs. You told your friends you were sick of them sending Keyboard Cat videos to you, but you secretly weren’t. You ironically bought one of those “Hang In There” posters with a kitty grasping at a tree. You wish some of your friends were cats, because instead of talking about sports or religion, they would just mew and yawn all the time. You love cats, and if you don’t, you just haven’t cuddled them enough. And this is not a time for judgment: cats are kind of awesome. So are dogs. No hate.
“Lil Bub & Friendz” seems to be pitched exactly towards this demographic consisting of “everybody.” It seems engineered from the ground up to be referred to as a “catumentary” or a “mewnumental achievement” by those who love super furry critters, granting its spotlight to adorable meme Lil Bub, a feline with a rare congenital condition that is heartbreaking, but also secretly awesome because it makes it look super cute. The thesis of “Lil Bub & Friendz” is that, among cat memes, Lil Bub is king and the rest of the online cat universe revolves around her. Arguable, but fine.
So, you come to “Lil Bub & Friendz” thinking, yes. Cats. Everyone wins. You try not to bring any baggage into the film, even if you like dogs more (jerk). You try to be open to the fact that maybe this is going to be a letdown. Maybe an onslaught of cute cats gets tiresome, you think to yourself, knowing that’s impossible. Maybe this uses cats as a metaphor for some sort of lifestyle choice or political situation. Whatever, you still get cats. Using cats as a metaphor still means you get cats. You get excited thinking about the moment the first tiny kitten crosses the screen, sending the cuteness factor into overload. Surely you’ll explode into a cascade of confetti and then kitties with run into the movie theater and paw at your confetti remains. It’s going to be horrifying and adorable. Even the title sets you off: this cat doesn’t have “friends” because cats don’t have friends, unless they’re humans. They have FRIENDZ, with paws and fur. Humans can’t be “friendz”: we outlawed that back in 1997.
But no. Lil Bub’s main friendz is Mike Bridavsky. He talks to us about acquiring Lil Bub, caring for her, petting her. He discusses Lil Bub’s medical condition, talks about his own life as a sound technician. And suddenly, you’re trapped. Where are the cats? Where are the friendz? Mike seems like good people, but he is a casual cat-loving dude who you could catch a beer with, have a chat with. He is not Lil Bub. He is not in that galaxy. His life, his attitude, are all completely normal in an un-cinematic manner. We could be meeting all the I Can Has Cheezburger cats or hanging with Grumpy Cat, but instead we’re spending time with Mike, who seems to know how dull he is by talking to the camera while holding adorable Lil Bub in front of him. As if he’s saying, finally, you have an excuse to look at me. I hold a cat.
We’re told a road trip will ensue where we’ll meet a number of the world’s most famous cats. But one unforgivably long detour takes us to a small zoo where we are introduced to a group of lions. People: lions are not cats. Yes, science has a word to say about that, but if Lil Bub has friendz, they don’t let lions run with their crew. Lions are not cute because they will kill you. Cats will cuddle and mew and fall over. Lions will share your remains with each other. There’s no competition. “Lil Bub & Friendz” runs at a length of a bit over an hour: there’s just no time for lions, who are majestic creatures but who cares? Not Lil Bub.
The trip eventually lands us at the first ever Cat Video Film Festival, where several cat enthusiasts pull up a chair in the lawn and watch the very best of cute cats on a big screen. Because when you go to see “Lil Bub & Friendz,” that’s what you want to see: not actual cat videos, but humans watching cat videos. Of course. You’ve got your finger on the pulse, “Lil Bub & Friendz.” One of the enthusiasts, called an “expert” in this field by on-screen texts, reads the program at this event and doesn’t even recognize some of the videos, all culled from online research. Sorry, but if you’re going to be a cat video “expert,” you should be a cat video EXPERT, otherwise why are we watching you instead of cats? He talks about how the historical fascination with cats is somehow related to humanity’s interest in serial killers and how he shares that fascination, but assures us he hasn’t killed anyone yet. Important thing to add, dude. If the movie’s trying to provide us with things to watch instead of cats, you could do better than this guy’s thousand-mile stare.
As “Lil Bub & Friendz” moves towards the end, it concerns itself with Lil Bub’s deteriorating condition, and suddenly, “Lil Bub & Friendz” is the worst. Is this a cat documentary? No, this is not a catumentary, but rather a movie taking a surface-level peek at the lives of cat lovers. But now, it’s not even about one adorable cat: it’s about one adorable cat’s IMPENDING DEATH. Good God, “Lil Bub & Friendz.” You should never be a slave to the audience, but man oh man, this should be cats cats cats, not tragic awful cat death. Combined with the random crude language used by the humans (watch your mouth around cats), the artless scene transitions, the low-fi music videos placing cats in stupid costumes set to Spiritualized (give these cats some dignity, guys) and the comparison of a man’s cat fancy to serial killing, it’s impossible to think of a documentary that hits so many wrong notes. If this were rated on a scale of five cats, it would get a rating of Zero Kittens, plus One Copperhead Snake. Because we use a different rating system, we’ll go with… [F]