Light spoilers for the movie “Cat Person” are in this article.
It seems everyone at Sundance has a lot to say about the highly anticipated adaptation of the viral story of the new yorkerstars Emilia Jones (“CODA”) and Nicholas Braun (cousin Greg from “Succession”), about a 20-year-old woman, Margot, who begins a relationship based primarily on text messages. relationship with an older man, Robert, and then goes on an epically bad date with him.
The Kristen Roupenian story kicked off thousands of Twitter threads about consent and bad kissers (and ghosting, and it’s okay to change your mind about having sex with someone in the middle of the act) when it broke in December. of 2017, when society began to deal. with the consequences of #MeToo. (The story broke just two months after the initial New York Times and New Yorker investigative reports into Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse story.) Listening to the audience chatter leaving the premiere on Saturday was like listening to those twitter threads be revived, five years later. Nightmare dating stories are seemingly as resonant as ever.
In a major departure from Roupenian’s subtle tale, however, the movie version of “Cat Person” is unmistakably a darkly comic horror film about modern dating hell. Director Susanna Fogel (who co-wrote the screenplay for 2019’s “Booksmart”) and writer Michelle Ashford (creator of “Masters of Sex”) have leaned on genre elements, often jumping between reality and Margot’s violent visions of being in constant danger, just because she is a woman. Every walk home alone at night and every touch of her arm carries the potential for harm, with Heather McIntosh’s score adding a further sense of dread.
The film also features Isabella Rossellini as Margot’s teacher, giving scathing comments on the gender dynamics of ants and bees, and a skeptical feminist best friend (Geraldine Viswanatha of “Blockers”) who constantly points out how this relationship seems like a bad one. news, only to make Margot ignore all his warnings.
“Michelle and I talked a lot about trying to manifest those internalized fears into an externalized sense of danger,” Fogel said in the post-screening Q&A, “even if it’s just that adrenaline rush, that cortisol flash of danger that I think a lot of women have when they’re in a situation with someone they don’t know, suddenly realizing the size of that person they just got into a car with that they met on Tinder a day ago and are now driving around. a highway at 80 miles per hour.
The film’s biggest fans seemed to be those who went into it blindly and weren’t as put off by the film’s extreme worst-case scenario. act three, which plays up what happens after the shocking end of Roupenian’s story, when Robert lashes out at Margot over a text after she ghosts him. It’s unnuanced, but it’s a fascinating adaptation of what appeared to be unfilmable source material that takes place mostly in the text and in Margot’s head.
The audience responded to that third act with a lot of nervous, nervous laughter and hands over their eyes, but it also gives Robert a chance to say what was going through his head and ask Margot what he could have done that went wrong. . The man sitting next to me said that he appreciated the addition, because he had been through those same kinds of emotions, jumping to all kinds of conclusions after a woman he was dating had inexplicably drifted away.
At the center of the film, as in the story, Robert is a truly terrible kisser, who Margot ignores on her way to have sex with him on their first date, even as she grows increasingly repulsed by him. “Trying to figure out how to kiss badly and extremely badly is a lot of fun for two actors,” Braun said in a brief interview. “’Was that weird enough? Not? Let’s get weirder.’”
As for the sex scene, director Fogel made the decision to place another out-of-body Margot in the room, giving comedic comments as the act progressed. Jones said that despite the darkness of the footage, there was plenty of laughs, even in the middle of takes.
Although the film is Margot’s story, Fogel said, he felt it was the casting of Robert that needed to be more specific. He needed to be handsome, a bit subdued, and imposing in size, so Margot feels a little uncomfortable. “Nick is kind of a magical creature in the sense that he nerds on TV, but he’s also a heartthrob in the world,” Fogel said. “He’s the perfect mix because you have to believe that she would be interested in him and could project herself onto him. Nick has this chameleon quality where, in a certain light, you look at him and say, ‘Oh, that’s a leading man,’ and then other times he’s insecure or says the wrong thing and you can recoil from that attraction.”
Braun also felt that he identified with the discomfort of the role. “Everyone has been a Robert in some way,” he said. “You try really hard, or you do whatever macho thing to make you more attractive, or you dress a certain way to impress a woman. I think I’ve also been awkward and awkward and overly lecherous, like ‘Oh, gosh, I want this so bad,’ and then you screw something up because it’s so uneven.”
Regardless of what others think of the film and its success as an adaptation (it hasn’t sold for distribution yet), it seemed to be hitting a nerve with the audience, who kept talking about the gray areas of dating and messiness. copulating at house parties in Park City that night. Fogel said in the question-and-answer session that the film was a necessary evolution of the female revenge thriller that rose to prominence after the reckoning with men in the late 2010s.
“We wanted to explore the ambivalence and the idea that consent is an ongoing thing and that people change their minds,” Fogel said, “and there has to be space to talk about that in the culture as well. Sometimes you may wish you weren’t in a place, when you did all the things that led you to that place. And then what? Was the other person supposed to know? There is so much pressure to be absolutely sure of what you want and to be able to articulate it, otherwise you lose your ability to escape from a situation.”
Reviews have been mixed. justin chang of the Los Angeles Times criticized its “hard-hitting storytelling” which becomes “a bloody, fiery, spectacularly violent mess”, while variety he admired his “risky” and “daring” third act. indiewire He called it “appropriately unbearable”, in a complimentary way, saying “it’ll set your teeth on edge and raise the hairs on the back of your neck, just as it should.”
Roupenian said that it was the second time he had seen the film and his stomach still hurt after watching it. “It made me think about how experiences that feel internal and invisible really aren’t,” he said. “Everyone is in their face on a minute-by-minute basis, and yet it’s still very difficult to talk about. … Not everyone is having the same experience and that is shocking and amazing and terrifying.”