Around midway through “Cat Daddies,” audiences are introduced to David Durst, a truck driver based in Arizona who has found a following online by posting pictures of Tora, the cat he shares with girlfriend Destiny Rolfe who seemingly has a different outfit for every destination Durst could possibly make a stop. Director Mye Hoang is wise to not make more of the amusing scenario than it is, with Durst having to warn fans of Tora that plan meet-ups around the cat’s whereabouts that he’ll eventually come to them when some plot longer treks than he’s used to driving himself, but it is nonetheless somewhat subversive to see someone in one of the most traditionally manly of professions to schedule various detours to take pictures of a cat, never mind the prep of dressing it up or carrying it around in custom-made backpack attempting to find the best light to shoot it in.
Although largely invisible in “Cat Daddies,” it was no doubt Instagram posts that lured director Mye Hoang to all corners of the country in search of those who dare to challenge dogs’ long-held supremacy over the title of “man’s best friend” and while it seems like social media is more noted these days for its failings than its successes, its ability to upend conventional wisdom with evidence that there are far more people out there that share specific interests is on full display in the charming doc. Still, Hoang quickly moves past what can be achieved online, even for as many countless cute and meme-able kitty portraits as she and cinematographer Robert E. Bennett capture, to spend 2020 with men who have the cats in their lives to keep them company and view them far more than as pets.
In the case of Nathan Kehn, a social media influencer who rechristened himself as Nathan the Cat Lady, the adoption of four cats has led to invites to Emmy parties he hadn’t yet received in his career as an aspiring actor, but “Cat Daddies” immediately gives way to those who receive less tactile yet no less tangible benefits from Ryan Robertson, a stuntman in Atlanta who draws inspiration from his 25-lb. cat Toodles to the Belmont Fire Department in Greenville, South Carolina that rallies around a stray they nickname Flame and give its own locker. Call it the opposite of toxic masculinity as these men show a kindness and consideration for their feline friends that is more often portrayed as a weakness than as a strength, if at all on screen.
Hoang finds a throughline in showing how these qualities can rub off on human relationships as well, particularly as the film begins to hone in on David Giovanni, a former construction worker who has fallen on hard times and lives in the streets of New York with his cat Lucky, who he credits with getting him through the days which only get harder when his cerebral palsy flares up. In fact, the relationship he has with Lucky attracts the attention of Chris Alese, a local beat cop who is a cat person himself and leads to a meaningful friendship for them both and although it shouldn’t be so rare to see this kind of compassion between two men, it’s what ultimately distinguishes “Cat Daddies” where curiosity, in spite of the long-held idiom, is actually rewarded.