The ideal in the American West of a man and his dog, venturing outdoors, is something of a cliche, right? What to make of a man and his cat, hitting the trail?
Not one but two men, who do live in different parts of the country, partake in this activity in “Cat Daddies,” a funny and engaging film about dudes and their beloved pets that looks to undercut stereotypes about masculinity.
Director Mye Hoang cast a broad section of society, geography, race and class in choosing her subjects. They include a South Carolina firefighter, a roving trucker, an Oakland software engineer and veteran, a Brooklyn resident who works in advertising and starts a spay, neuter, release nonprofit, and an Atlanta movie stuntman. (His credits include “Black Panther” and the last two “Avengers” movies.)
The film opens with a very online character: An actor and owner of four cats (Pickles, Ginger, Annie and Princess) who’s parlayed them into a career as an influencer. (He’s “Nathan the Cat Lady” on Instagram, where he has 353,000 followers.)
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The most dramatic plotline in the film involves David Giovanni, a former construction worker who’s been living on the street in New York for two years. During that time, he rescued a wounded kitten and nursed it back to health. (He’s named Lucky.) Chris Alese, a police officer who works on housing outreach, is also a cat guy, hears of a guy with a kitten who needs shelter and tracks him down to help get him off the street. He explains that people who live on the street might take better care of their pets than themselves, and Giovanni’s health isn’t up to outdoor living anymore.
The film introduces them all in succession and lets them describe how they came to be cat owners and why they love cats. Many will be familiar: the pets’ intelligence and independence, for instance. Jordan Lide explains how his fire station adopted a stray (he’s named Flame) and skeptics came to appreciate a laid-back pet in a high-stress environment. For cat lovers in the audience, rest assured the pets are introduced by name, filmed as characters unto themselves.
Also rest assured that for all the humor, the stories are taken quite seriously and the film is fascinating not just for cat lovers, but for those who might even be neutral. This is because Hoang makes sure to display how pets do affect the affairs of man. Ryan Robertson, the stuntman, has a cat named Toodles that weighs around 25 pounds and made the pivotal move in convincing his girlfriend he was a quality partner. (A man who takes care of something besides himself is sexy, she says.)
Giovanni’s situation becomes more dire and acts as a throughline, and the fate of his cat often seems more of a concern to him than his own precarious health. Jordan Jensen, who somehow is able to take his trail-loving cat, Mrs. Fitzby, out for hikes near his home in Santa Cruz without losing her, must cope with a pandemic and an impending fire season.
As you’d guess from those examples, the film isn’t a novelty value although it has fun with its subject. As one person says at the beginning, dog owners are just as weird as cat owners.