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Movie Reviews

Cat Person ★★★



Director: Susanna Fogel

Cast: Emilia Jones, Nicholas Braun, Geraldine Viswanathan

Released: Sundance Film Festival 2023

Cat Person is yet another viral Twitter post receiving cinematic treatment, similar to Zola. Originally a 2017 short story by Kristen Roupenian posted in the New York Times, Cat Person reads like a dating columnist’s advice to lonely hearts warning of dating perils and stranger danger. There are echoes of Fresh and Promising Young Woman within its overall messaging, from a female lens, as a cautionary tale regarding insidious dating culture regardless of whether a love interest is a cat person or a dog person.

Cat Person indeed starts well with promising beginnings. The film’s tone is set with a quote from the acclaimed writer Margaret Atwood: ‘Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.’

Cat Person’s premise expands on this theme of fear established within the aforementioned quote. Its overarching concept emphasises the unknowing danger for women whilst out at night by embracing classic horror tropes. This narrative is engrossing and effective for the first two parts of the film but tapers out when the film changes tack and resorts to melodramatic conclusions. The overall impression is that the director, Susanna Fogel, did not feel sufficiently confident to continue exploring this darkly humorous trajectory embedded within a psychological character study, which is unfortunate. Still, Cat Person is akin to a sweet and sour dish catering to most tastes but ultimately leaves a bitter, unsatisfying sensation.

An underlying eeriness pervades Cat Person as Margot, an excellent Emilia Jones, leaves her job at an arthouse cinema alone at night; this is indeed problematic regarding an employer’s duty of care to employees. She also walks through her college campus by night alone, hearing unexplained noises, which may or may not be a figment of her imagination. The camera angles acutely underline that sense of isolation, fear and self-doubt, which many women will resonate with. During the daytime, such fears also seep into Margot’s consciousness to be dismissed by others or herself in second-guessing that instinctive fear. However, the film employs a degree of self-awareness to assist. Cat Person throws that knowing wink towards its audience by employing a voiceover narration. The sense of dread thus permeates and is compounded by the score and the camera angles. Emphasis is placed on the unknown, the unease and the perceived shadowy intent of her customers to brilliant effect. We never truly know the intentions of any new person entering our lives, and Cat Person convincingly portrays this sense of paranoia.

Margot seems to crave excitement and is initially interested in the attention she receives one evening from the slightly older customer Robert, played by Nicholas Braun. Jones’s performance is highly captivating during such scenes, with exaggerated yawning and other movements to emphasise her ennui at work. However, such activities may be misconceived by the male customers; they seem to be the only ones who stop and talk to Margot whilst she works. Such behaviour may be questionably creepy within the film’s tone, and Cat Person illuminates the fine line that may be crossed in such situations in a post #MeToo era.

The increased claustrophobia in Cat Person amplifies the creepy sensation, with its close-ups and Robert’s request for her number as the ‘concession stand girl’. Robert is an awkward customer who likes to purchase Red Vines as snacks, but Margot ignores her inner voice to convince herself to provide her phone number, a dilemma many women will recognise. Margot’s desire to please creates internal pressure from the outset and thus highlights the conditioning of many women to respond similarly to avoid confrontation. Therefore, that type of lengthy, witty, ambiguous text chat ensues within an uncertain relationship status, which proves to be too lengthy to view on screen and ultimately tedious.

Cat Person continues to explore the dynamics of a bad date reminiscent of the tales that many women will regale to their female friends over brunch. However, whilst there are some genuine laugh-out-moment scenes with clumsy attempts at romance, there are equally cringe-worthy moments with a bad kissing scene springing to mind. The film shines a spotlight on other uneasy moments, where friends and that voice on our shoulder may highlight red flags, but the option that many women may prefer in a dating scenario is to consent to be ‘polite’. It is an element many will identify with, and the film impressively draws out those feelings of doubt whilst dissecting the ‘nice guy’ persona that quickly turns sour with rejection. Equally, Cat person illustrates that several scenes within historic films perpetuate this notion of women being the prey and succumbing to a man’s romantic whims, despite their better judgment. As such, films such as Empire Strikes Back and Blade Runner does not escape from this post #MeToo scrutiny.

These aspects remain strong within Cat Person, which unfortunately suffers from relying on caricatures to produce humour. Cat Person’s appeal lies in its faithful interpretation of the short story as a précis of a wrong date with added social commentary. Admittedly, there are some solid acting performances to convey such dating themes. But, the film loses momentum when it de-rails in the third act, therefore, running the risk of diluting its impact and ultimately failing to add a fresh voice to the existing film discourse.

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