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Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘Cat Person’ is a Pitch-Black Depiction of Modern Dating

‘Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.’ That quote from Margaret Atwood begins Cat Person and really does put you in the headspace for what this film is trying to say. A look at modern dating and how two people can see things in very different ways, it plays like a cross between a cautionary tale and an observation. The way the movie goes about things may not be for everyone, but as one of the more intriguing Sundance Film Festival titles this year, I largely bought what it was selling.

Cat Person is a bumpier ride than you’d prefer, but it commits to its presence with a singular focus that’s hard to ignore. As someone engaged in the world of modern dating, the flick doesn’t necessarily reflect what everyone is going through, but it’s a view of that world that has an undeniably lived in quality. The more we see of that, as opposed to some more overtly cinematic elements, the better things are here.

When Margot (Emilia Jones) sees Robert (Nicholas Braun) at the movie theater she works at, she flirts with him without really knowing why. He dismisses/ignores her at first, but the next time, he asks for her number. She gives it, without any real interest, and a text flirtation ensues. If not an interest, Margot has a curiosity about the older Robert, while he clearly seems attracted to her. The texting continues on and on, until an in person meeting and then actual date occurs.

While Margot sees these interactions as awkward but not awkward enough to break away from Robert, her roommate Taylor (Geraldine Viswanathan) sees red flags everywhere. After a sexual encounter leaves her shaken, Margot and Taylor think it’s time to cut Robert loose. How he sees the interaction differently, as well as what comes next, dovetails from the source material, following things to a more cinematic conclusion.

Both Nicholas Braun and especially Emilia Jones are all-in on characters that aren’t exactly likable. Braun plays someone you could charitably call weird, while Jones showcases how someone can make poor decisions for reasons other than you’d expect. Their awkward interactions and particular lack of chemistry is hard to pull off with any realism on screen, but they manage to do so. Jones was better in CODA, but she’s very solid in this one. Braun and Jones are the stars, but the supporting cast, aside from a mostly wasted Geraldine Viswanathan, also includes Hope Davis, Michael Gandolfini, Fred Melamed, Isabella Rossellini (given nothing to do), and more.

Director Susanna Fogel and writer Michelle Ashford expand upon the New Yorker short story, though where they take things is questionable. The first half of the film is fairly excellent, making a text relationship compelling. It’s the third act, and especially everything from where the source material wrapped, where Ashford and Fogel go off the rails. Cat Person has a dark nature to it, but this is where it goes too far in that direction, risking losing the audience. They don’t, but it may come close for some.

Cat Person kept me engaged throughout, even if I really didn’t care for the last section of the film. As perhaps the Sundance title I was most looking forward to, it didn’t particularly exceed my expectations, or even necessarily meet them, but I liked what I saw. As an odd festival entry, it has something to say about wants to start a discussion. One way or another, after seeing this movie, you’ll want to engage with it.

SCORE: ★★★


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Written by Joey Magidson

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