Morgan Kohan in Kitty Mammas (Photo: Gravitas Ventures)

★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Dennis Alexander Nicholson
STARS Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Janet Porter

It might be the dumbest movie premise of 2021. A fertility doctor pays four female volunteers to give birth to kittens. Sure, this might succeed as a creature feature in the Cronenbergian “body-horror” sense, but as a mockumentary?

So the massive surprise regarding Kitty Mammas is that it works more often than not. For that, credit writer-director Dennis Alexander Nicholson and his sister, co-scripter Katrina Nicholson, for creating characters who are interesting enough to overcome the occasionally overreaching silliness.

It’s crucial that the doctor conducting this experiment not come across as creepy or insane, and the casting of Paul Sun-Hyung Lee avoids such a dilemma. Lee delivers a delicate performance as Dr. William Han, a gentle and soft-spoken man who is not after fame and fortune but who is genuinely interested in the possibilities of science. Offering $20,000 to any woman who agrees to carry a kitty to full term, he ends up with four test subjects, all taking part for different reasons.

Joan (Kathryn Kohut) needs the money for law school and plans to give away the cat after birth. Sylvia (Janet Porter) has a fussy husband (Billy MacLellan) who’s allergic to cats, so she’s excited to be able to birth a hypoallergenic feline. Rose (Morgan Kohan) is a vlogger who’s obsessed with cats. And Maria (Vienna Hehir) is a lesbian who doesn’t particularly care for kids, so she and her partner Jennifer (Zarrin Darnell-Martin) elect to go this route even though it will infuriate Maria’s pseudo-Christian mom (Christina Song).

Vienna Hehir and Zarrin Darnell-Martin in Kitty Mammas (Photo: Gravitas Ventures)

For a mockumentary, Kitty Mammas isn’t especially funny, particularly in the strained sequences in which the cat carriers begin to exhibit feline behavior patterns such as licking their own hands. There’s also a zany nurse (Stephanie Belding) whose antics are clearly meant to be scene-stealing, but her material actually runs hot-and-cold. Ditto the heavy of the piece, a dorky, sputtering journalist (Drew Nelson) who’s outraged that his ex-wife (Helene Robbie) is attracted to Dr. Han and thus repeatedly tries to ruin the good doctor’s life.

Instead, where the movie unexpectedly delivers is in its dealing with the conflicts that arise between the participants and their family members. Rose is exempt from this, since she has no family except for her cat and her viewers (many of whom eventually turn on her because Internet). The plotlines involving Sylvia’s relationship with her fastidious husband Tom and Joan’s relationship with her artistically inclined mother Sunshine (Ramona Milano) are handled well, but the best material involves Maria. Her partner Jennifer is the most interesting of the supporting players, and their relationship provides the movie with much of its heart. In contrast, there’s real tension in the scenes in which Maria and Jennifer must deal with Maria’s mom, who doesn’t take her daughter’s relationship seriously and even goes so far as to try to hook her up with a male acquaintance.

In a movie that one would expect to live or die by the laughs, it’s actually the dramatic interludes that prove to be the cat’s meow.

(Kitty Mammas is available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and other streaming platforms.)

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