‘Cat Person’ – Review (Sundance)

Adapted from the sensationalized 2017 New Yorker short story, Cat Person is an honest depiction of female discomfort in the modern world of dating that will spark further discussion around gray areas and consent and even hit too close to home for my own dating experiences. 

Women carry a sense of fear in their everyday life that men will never understand. Simple tasks like crossing the street, being in a parking garage, or sitting alone can incite fear as hundreds of horrific scenarios play out in your head of what could happen to you. To grasp the stakes of this story, context is key. With it taking place in 2018, right after the rise of the #MeToo movement and the downfall of many powerful white men across industries, it was a confusing time as society was deciphering what behaviors counted as predatory and took the time for self-reflection. Still, in 2023, we are going through the aftereffects of the infamous New York Times article. Cat Person is a heightened version of the anxieties of being a woman. 

It starts out with a simple premise following Margot, a 20-year-old student who works concessions at a movie theater close to her college campus. One evening while she is behind the counter serving popcorn, a tall, awkward man who later is revealed to be named Robert chats with her. Nothing comes from the conversation except an exchange of cash for Red Vines. But this meeting is prep for the next time they connect, which is an identical scenario but leaves room for one of them to make a move. From the very beginning, the audience is placed on the side of Margot, almost like a conscience that wants better for her after she meets this weirdo.

Director Susanna Fogel walks many lines within this relationship for experimental adaptation by being cute and weird, scary and spontaneous, and tragic and infatuated. It almost replicates the range of emotions someone goes through reading the original article but played out visually. Emilia Jones and Nicholas Braun are extremely believable in their respectable parts with Jones being innocent and Braun being extremely creepy with the worst onscreen kissing technique. (Watching the new season of Succession after this might be hard.)

Cat Person is centered on the text relationship between the two leads. These conversations are fun and flirty as Fogel uses text bubbles and glimpses of Margot’s phone to show their intrigue for each other. It is the part when the online relationship has to transfer offline that gets tricky and awkward. This transition was so relatable to watch as I have found myself in many similar situations. There is such a thrill of a text relationship that you build up your idea of that person through their responses and it is shattering when their actual persona doesn’t align with the expectation you virtually set for them. It is hard to comprehend why Margot is spending her time entertaining the idea of Robert, but we have all experienced a time when simply having a consistent person to text brings you a sense of joy and the attention you desire. From their text conversations that the audience sees, they seemingly hit it off as she eagerly awaits to hear from Robert. There is an excitement about it that the dings and taps communicate extremely well. 

The inner monologue is utilized multiple times throughout the film to further communicate Margot’s anxieties about Robert. One of the major standout scenes using it is a disturbing sex scene in which Margot is literally trying to talk herself out of it. The inner monologue works in positive and negative ways as shown with the sex scene, but sometimes the quick-cut horror scenes feel unnecessary due to Jones’s ability to articulate Margot’s terror through nonverbal cues and a riveting score by Heather McIntosh that adds support to what Fogel is trying to say about a young woman dating in 2018. Watching the sex scene with a full audience where all you hear is the groans and laughs of the person next to you is one of the best theatrical experiences as everyone is in shock with her going through this horrific deed.

Overall, I think the internal monologue does work as many times, young women find themselves contemplating their decisions, too worried by how their choice will affect the other person rather than prioritizing their own comfort. It is at the point of the film where honesty sinks in as Margot is facing the real Robert who has empty McDonald’s cups on his nightstand. Even the camera begins to frame Robert differently in the eyes of Emilia as he is seen as this big man that potentially could cause harm to her; he is no longer that quirky older man from the movies. This sudden realization of who he really is spooks her. This is one of the best parts of Cat Person as it juxtaposes Margot’s feelings about an experience she doesn’t want to have and the naivety of Robert who thinks his worst self is his best self.

Cat Person will hit hard with a lot of young women who will see themselves in Margot and might have similar horror stories of dating. It is also validating to watch Margot walk through what really makes Robert a bad guy to her and wonder if she is making it all up in her head. In today’s age, I am sure both women and men have interpreted advances by the opposite sex as predatory, and sometimes they are and sometimes the other person is completely oblivious to what they are doing. But how do you have that actual conversation on why it makes you uncomfortable? The finale of the film, which is more concrete than the ambiguous ending, does get wrapped up in itself where it is hard to decipher the main takeaway Fogel wants her audience to walk away with. Nevertheless, this film will certainly make for interesting discourse on the rules of modern dating. 

Grade: B+

Oscar Prospects:
Likely: None
Should be Considered: Best Adapted Screenplay

Release Date: TBD
Where to Watch: TBD

Jillian Chilingerian
she/her @JillianChili
Lives in LA
Favorite Director: David Fincher
Sign: Leo

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