Alex Wolff is only twenty-one years old and already has a great career. His start came from the Nickelodeon TV show The Naked Brothers Band alongside equally-successful brother Nat Wolff, he’s recorded music with his brother since that time, acted in various projects, and had a huge breakthrough in Ari Aster’s 2018 horror sensation, Hereditary. Along with this, Wolff’s mother is Polly Draper, an actress/writer/director and his father is Michael Wolff, acclaimed jazz musician. With these multiple resources, Alex Wolff possesses the opportunity to write, direct, and star in his own film, The Cat and the Moon. The problem is, we’ve seen this film before – many times. And it makes the audience wonder whether we’re missing out on truly original filmmaking from unheard voices who don’t have the means Wolff has when we get films like The Cat and the Moon from people who have every advantage available to them.
The Cat and the Moon isn’t necessarily a typical coming-of-age film focusing on a high schooler in New York, but it is all too familiar. Wolff stars as Nick, a teenager sent to New York to live with his late musician father’s friend, Cal (Mike Epps), as his mother seeks treatment in rehab. Due to his upbringing (at least that’s what he blames it on), Nick’s a troublesome kid, quickly falling into the wrong crowd at his new school. He falls for his new friend, Seamus’ (Skyler Gisondo) girlfriend Eliza (Stefania LaVie Owen), and struggles with his feelings while experiencing the debaucherous nightlife New York has to offer.
Overall, this is a technically well-made movie. Wolff obviously has artistic talent, because at times it can be hard to believe this came from someone of such a young age. Cinematographer Anthony Savini captures lonely New York nights that perfectly compliment Nick’s character and the jazzy score (by Wolff and his father) fit the city as similar scores have previously done so in other films. Nick is a complex character as well, dealing with the grief of losing his father and slowly letting his built-up anger out. But unfortunately, it’s the script that is lacking.
With a film like this, nothing of major plot importance usually happens. It’s the standard high school coming-of-age formula which acts more of a character study of its protagonist than anything else. The problem is, the media is not lacking in stories about troubled young men. This is a well-known problem and many filmmakers are able to get around it by offering something new along with the storyline. However, Wolff doesn’t manage that in his film. His script feels empty and his dialogue reminds the viewer of the kind one would find in a student film. It’s cliched, tiring, and ultimately, just boring.
Where The Cat and the Moon stands strong is its acting. Wolff is nothing if not a talented individual, especially in his acting range. He plays his part with nuance and is certainly an asset that a good film would love to have. Other strong performances are LaVie Owen’s (despite her manic-pixie-dream-girl material to work with) and Tommy Nelson as Russell, the troublemaking ring-leader of Nick’s group of friends. Who really shines, though, is Gisondo as the hound dog narcissist Seamus. His friendship with Nick is put to the test throughout the film and he plays the character with expertise that are the marks of an exciting young actor.
When it comes right down to it, The Cat and the Moon is not a terrible film. It has its moments of conflict that might get its audience invested in the story. There just isn’t enough good material to keep them interested. However, Wolff possesses fine directing talent and one can hope that his career will only go up from here. Once Wolff finds a project that’s new and exciting, he is sure to put out something truly great.