Like so many before him, Mike Pinkney (played by, heh, Mike Pinkney) has taken the trip to Hollywood in pursuit of a filmmaking career – but the dream has since soured, and he now works as a trainee dog groomer, while using his spare time to shoot ‘weird video art’ alone in his apartment. At Tail Waggers, his boss Huber (Luis Fernandez-Gil) takes an exacting, oddly sensual approach to canine care, demanding nothing less than perfection from his staff. Mike, however, is far from perfect. He is distracted and sloppy in his work with dogs, his filthy, infested apartment is a ‘rat palace’, he has an unhealthy fixation on old John Travolta movies and cheap cheese-flavoured snacks, his car barely runs, he regularly lies to his mother on the phone about his progress, and even his own producer Sebastian (Flula Borg) thinks his pitch for an all-feline reimagining of Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) is “a terrible, terrible idea”. The only good thing in Mike’s life is Cora (Sonja Kinski), with whom, after years of being single, he is hoping to have a date. The problem is, as the title so clearly spells out, She’s Allergic To Cats.
As well as shooting videos for My Chemical Romance and doubling as the Gold Robot in Daft Punk, writer/director Michael Reich has himself served long term as an LA dog groomer – and so for his feature debut, he tells what he knows. This, however, is no straight story, but a psychic kaleidoscope of its protagonist’s anxieties and inadequacies in both a human world and an animal kingdom. Here, in a landscape littered with dogs, cats, rats and ducks, the boundaries between Mike’s experiences, his nightmares and his glitchy homemade films all become blurred, as he is confronted, time and time again, with his own failure. Huber and Sebastian may be real characters, but they are also the scolding, negative voices in the addled head of a man whom Sebastian describes as “a giant sad dirty manbaby”.
Cora is the only ray of light and hope here, alone genuinely liking Mike for who he is – yet the idealising soft focus that characterises her scenes suggests that she too may be something of a figment and a fantasy figure. Even the rats may be all in Mike’s head, embodying the mess of his life, while the bananas that they nibble and leave rotting hilariously track Mike’s hang-ups about sexual sufficiency and performance. Desperate to impress, Mike finally cleans up his act for Cora, and for once enjoys a time where things seem to be going right for him. Yet even as She’s Allergic To Cats starts to take shape as a date movie, Mike’s evening out and in with Cora – finding a lost dog (significantly named Karma), experiencing momentary happiness, sharing his solitary interior space with another person – is also a mise en abyme of Mike’s life (right down to his finding a DVD collection of “animal movies”) – and so it becomes inevitable that this one perfect night will eventually be ruined by all the baggage, faults and (self-)disgust that haunt Mike.
Out walking with Cora, Mike discusses the importance of clutter in helping inspire creative people to have ideas. Certainly She’s Allergic To Cats is a cluttered movie, mixing and merging a number of media to expose Mike’s mental flotsam and jetsam – all the squalor and detritus and shit that keep holding him back from ever consummating his dreams. Taking up low-rent space in the same neighbourhood as David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s Bojack Horseman (2014-2020) and David Robert Mitchell’s Under The Silver Lake (2018), this is a surreal portrait of one man’s angst-ridden interior world under the Hollywood sign. Funny, hallucinatory and deliriously strange, Reich’s internalised, animalistic trip is literally bananas.
© Anton Bitel