Margot (Emilia Jones) is a 20 year old college sophomore who spends her nights working at a niche movie theatre. With little luck in love, she spends most of her days lending an ear to her roommate Taylor (Geraldine Viswanathan), Reddit moderator and feminist activist extraordinaire, or her peculiar teacher Dr Enid Zabala (Isabella Rossellini) who glorifies the matriarchal society of her ant colony.
One day, Margot meets an older, tall, awkward but kind of cute cinema goer named Robert (Nicholas Braun) and feels instantly drawn to him. Eventually the two begin a fling, but they only meet sparingly while mainly exchanging text messages. Margot finds her imagination getting away from her. She pictures Robert as an idealistic heartthrob one moment and a potential serial killer the next. I mean, what does she really know about this guy?
When they finally meet IRL, Margot tries to make things work seeing the effort Robert is making. But after several clashes in personalities, a bad first kiss and horrible sex, she is sure this relationship is not for her. But when Margot, with Taylor‘s ‘help’, ghosts Robert, she quickly begins to fear for her life. Will she be the latest woman killed by a violent spurned lover, or is it all in her head? Again, what does she really know about this guy?
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them, Women are afraid that men will kill them”, a fairly succinct quote from Canadian poet and activist, Margaret Atwood which opens and sets the tone for Cat Person. Directed by Susanna Fogel and written by Michelle Ashford, it is based on a short story from ‘The New Yorker’ magazine which went viral. The film seeks to look at the horrors of dating in a modern, disconnected age.
It can be tough dating in the 2020s. Women and men are bombarded with confusing tips and guides on how dating should work, how it used to work and often that this clashes with reality. Issues of consent and how the different sexes should approach each other are muddied by what we see working in movies. Something which should be simple has become complicated and scary.
This is what I feel Cat Person delves into so well at times. Margot is presented as a character trying to be nice and accepting but also mindful of how vulnerable it makes her. She imagines a relationship with a man she has not even gone on a date with yet and wants desperately for that dream to come true. She is willing to overlook certain red flags in hope that the reward will be a fairy tale ending that’s destined never to come.
Jones and Braun each play their roles well and their face to face interactions feel genuinely uncomfortable. Braun playing the prototypical male raised on a mix of action movies and porn, not understanding real people do not act that way. While Jones brings her intelligent yet naïve character much charm and personality.
Fogel attempts to alternate between thriller, comedy, and introspective drama with mixed results. The best parts of the film are the fittingly cringe inducing moments which anybody who has ever gone on a bad date can relate to. But the story is extremely one note and its gloomy atmosphere grows stale before our mismatched couple have even gone on the first date.
I think the issue stems from expanding the short source material to feature film length. At 2 hours, the film feels unnecessarily long for what little plot there actually is. Additions have also been made which distract rather than enhance the overall narrative. Rossellini feels wasted in a bizarrely inconsequential role, as does Hope Davis as Margot‘s wealthy mother. Furthermore, the movie extends past the short story’s strong ending, cheapening it in the process.
There is an incredible film hiding inside of Cat Person, wanting to get out. The two leads are perfectly cast and several interesting ideas are approached. Its natural and very real moments in dating misadventures hit exactly as hard as intended, it has thrills and its fair share of laughs. But like a bad date, the film can feel like a chore to get through, never quite living up to the prestige of its source material.
Cat Person is in cinemas from November 23.