Sundance 2023

Cat Person review – adds nothing meaningful to the feminist film canon

Emilia Jones and Nicholas Braun headline an adaptation of the acclaimed short story that can't help but feel dated in its message

It’s often the case that when a solo woman faces a man as she walks down the street, she’ll cross the road to avoid contact, just in case. However, the same woman will usually be able to recognise that, as the world reminds her, not all men are capable of harm. Cat Person, based on the acclaimed New York Times short story of the same name by Kristen Roupenianis a jolted mesh of these two schools of thought, running with a sense of gendered projection that doesn’t sit easily within social nuances.

Right now, of course, movie-goers are arguably hungrier for big screen feminist stories than ever before. But director Susanna Fogel’s adaptation unknowingly serves up a fantastic example of what can go wrong when Hollywood approaches a subject for inclusion’s sake alone. Following 20-year-old student Margot (Emilia Jones) and her exploits with 33-year-old Robert (Nicholas Braun), the film lacks the nuance of its source material and the gravitas required to hammer home its tricky premise.

Everything Margot experiences here comes down to her assumptions that Robert might behave a certain way toward her, rather than him actually displaying those intentions. It pushes a viewer’s moral code to an uncomfortable place, understanding that Margot’s fears are entirely rational whilst not giving enough credit to feminist critical thinking. Her frantic, spontaneous reactions lead to scrapes, chases, and garage mace attacks that are frustrating to watch, particularly since the “block” button on her iPhone was there all along.

Stylistically, Cat Person isn’t doing itself many favours, either. The majority of Margot and Robert’s dalliance takes place via text, with speech bubbles becoming the frequent third wheel during their talking stage. They do, however, raise an interesting question – is showing texts onscreen now considered a bit dated, or does it remain in touch? Wherever the answer lands, audiences will be hard-pressed not to be annoyed by the near-constant keyboard clicks that follow Margot through boob pics and love bombing, though the film does slightly redeem itself with a poetically utilised soundtrack of Britney Spears, blasting the 2007 classic “Gimme More” over a scene lined with desolate streets and a fearful Margot walking herself home.

Peppered with annoying friends, stray dogs, and a criminally underused Isabella Rossellini (harking back to her Green Porno days), Cat Person adds nothing to the feminist film canon other than a few clever quips and a packet of Red Vines. Plenty could have been tapped into — including a smart commentary on the questionable age gap — but so much is left unsaid in favour of what's not actually there.

Cat Person was screened as part of the Sundance Film Festival 2023. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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