Signe Veje’s If Only Cats Could Talk is a documentary profile of two cats and their owners. Frankie is a cat living in Huntington Beach, California, that has recently run away, leaving its owner Jane to search frantically throughout the neighborhood and beyond, hoping for the best and fearing the worst. Jane eventually turns to the expertise of Jack Tyler, a cat tracker/pet detective, to help her find Frankie. Meanwhile, Browser is a cat in Pine River, Minnesota, who spends a large chunk of its time living at the local library with owner Muriel. This library cat has become a local celebrity, even sponsoring contestants in the local beauty pageant, and is a part of the personality of the town of Pine River.
As far as the technical skills needed to make a film, this one is solid enough. The footage looks good enough, with only a few audio-related missteps, and the editing between the dual storylines and profiles works to make an overall flow that doesn’t feel off or inconsistent. Technically, everything comes together.
For entertainment purposes, though, the film just does not sustain the engagement necessary to be as long as it is. Neither storyline is strong enough to carry a film to half this running time; maybe each one could pull off fifteen minutes solo, and that’s being charitable. The search for Frankie, for example, isn’t really all that interesting, and though the introduction of a real-life pet detective seems to offer up the potential for something unique, it’s not like this is a nonfiction Ace Ventura, for all the entertainment that could suggest. Wandering a neighborhood looking for a lost pet can be tiresome in practice, and to watch someone else do it, with nary a momentum-friendly development, is equally so.
Which is not a criticism of the pet owners or anything of that sort; there’s no doubt that Jane adores Frankie, and Muriel adores Browser, and there’s nothing wrong with either scenario. But are their stories compelling or entertaining enough to hold up a film for almost an hour? I too love my pets, but if one of them went missing, would it make for a good documentary? Probably not. At best, there are two short personal profiles to be found in this film, and they’re given way too much time to do very little.
And that’s really the bottom line with If Only Cats Could Talk. As a near-feature length film, it just does not have the meat or mystery to keep you engaged throughout. If each story in this film were given its own short film instead, while what happens wouldn’t necessarily be more interesting, the stories would at least be given the proper running time to make an impression before it turns into a tale of diminishing returns. You can connect with the film on an empathetic level, but how far that goes will vary from person to person.
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