Let me get this out of the way right up front: I don’t get Grumpy Cat. I mean, I get it. It’s an ugly cat who looks angry all the time. I smiled the first time I saw it, and occasionally get some minor amusement out of it still. What I don’t get is the rabid cult that has sprung up around Grumpy Cat. It makes me think I’m missing something, but cultists — which includes my wife — assure me that it’s just that the cat looks angry. Seriously, guys. Tell me what the fuck am I missing here.
Most people who know me would probably call me a cat person, too. This is because I have two and am in the process of adopting the Grace Kelly of stray cats. It’s more accurate to say that I’m an animal person. I think they’re cool. I even find it funny when animals talk like people but express animal ideas (about half of Wilfred’s humor was this, and it still cracks me up). I just don’t get the big deal about Grumpy Cat.
I think that is the reaction that anyone on the outside of a meme has to the meme itself. When Richard Dawkins coined the word, he probably didn’t have things like Grumpy Cat, or the Numa Numa Guy, or Affirmations Skeletor in mind. The thing is, even by his definition, they qualify. To those who get the meme, they have the reassuring buzz of familiarity. Being funny is part of the human dominance game, and memes are a shortcut there, chopping out the difficult parts of being creative or clever, just by sticking a weird bear into a picture to imply that everyone in it is a kiddie fiddler. I’m not saying I’m above memes, either — Rick Grimes telling dad jokes will always be one of the funniest things I will ever see. To those outside of a specific meme, they can feel insular, baffling, and rage inducing. I’m not there with Grumpy Cat. I’m just kind of confused.
It puts me on equal ground with the movie. (Jesus, that was a shitty segue. Even for me. I feel like I should apologize to someone.) Lifetime seems to understand that basing a two hour — 80+ minutes once commercials are factored in — movie on an internet sensation whose main form of communication is impact-lettered “NOPE,” is a pretty terrible plan. They made the smart move of hiring Aubrey Plaza to voice Grumpy Cat, a decision I’m comfortable saying she made because she thought it was just as ridiculous as everything else. So they have her as Grumpy (though once busting through the fourth wall to have her appear on camera as herself), offering post-modern commentary (along with a halfhearted “meow” or two) over the movie itself, which is a little closer to your standard lifetime fare. It’s a like watching a Christmas Lifetime movie at Aubrey Plaza’s house, although probably not as fun or dangerous.
But here’s the thing. The Lifetime movie? It’s their version of Die Hard.
I’m not even kidding. The Lifetime network made a version of the greatest Christmas movie of all time, starring Aubrey Plaza as a cat. Okay, so basically, it goes like this. Instead of all the bearer bonds, the score is an extremely rare dog who is worth a million dollars. Instead of Karl and that annoying computer guy, they have two members of presumably terrible band Dragon Tail, Donny and Zack. Instead of Hans Gruber — okay, spoilers here — they have security guard and traitor George (Daniel Roebuck, most recognizable as the ill-fated Arzt from Lost) as the mastermind. He even pulls a total Bill Clay on the heroes. Those heroes are Grumpy Cat and tween cat-whisperer Chrystal. It should be noted that all the animal characters (Grumpy lives in the pet store because no one wants her) have human voices, but Chrystal can only hear Grumpy. It’s a distinction that serves only to flummox someone coming in halfway through. “Why can’t the little girl hear the dog? I don’t understand! ALL WILL SUFFER FOR MY LACK OF UNDERSTANDING!”
So Chrystal ends up getting trapped in the mall with Grumpy, while Donny and Zack try to steal the dog. She does some John McClaneing, but because this is Lifetime and not actually Die Hard, she uses a paintball gun rather than an MP-5. I’m not saying that I think Lifetime movies should feature ultra-gory shootouts, but… actually, no. That’s exactly what I’m saying here. Eventually, Chrystal finds George tied up by the glam bandits (glamdits?), and he plays along until his story unravels. He was the mastermind all along. Using some quick thinking and the other unwanted pets, Chrystal defeats the bad guys. Just kidding, she beats them by stealing a Camaro and playing chicken. I’m not even joking. Chrystal is hardcore.
Aubrey Plaza cracks wise over all of this, with the detachment that she’s honed over her tenure as the second-best character on the best sitcom on TV. I said before that Lifetime gets that this is a terrible idea? Well, at every commercial break, Plaza harangues viewers for sticking around. The protests ring pretty hollow, though, what with the movie staying on its relative Lifetime rails. Had it gotten completely insane, it would have fared better. They’re leaning on the fourth wall, they might as well knock the damn thing down. Lifetime had to have its cake and eat it too.
What did we learn? Well, if a possibly drunk Santa gives you a wishing coin, you take that shit seriously. Also, cats might be angry, but they also like to feel loved. Aubrey Plaza is almost good enough to elevate even this.
And, most importantly, meow.