Cat Person is a nuanced, often hilarious, adaptation of a short story that went viral, with terrific work from CODA’s Emilia Jones.
Cat Person was previously reviewed at Sundance 2023.
PLOT: A college student (Emilia Jones) becomes infatuated with an older man (Nicholas Braun) who frequents the theater she works at.
REVIEW: For those not in the know, Cat Person is based on a New Yorker article that went viral a few years ago. It described, in excruciating detail, the relationship between a 20-year-old college girl and a thirty-something man she had a brief relationship with. The film, adapted by writer Michelle Ashford of Masters of Sex and director Susanna Fogel, embellishes the already fictional story with a third-act twist, but do a good job translating the story to film. The result is a fresh, uncomfortable and often legitimately funny take on a provocative subject.
Power dynamics in relationships are discussed now more than they used to be, even compared to when the article was published in 2017. Nowadays, everyone would look askew at a thirty-four-year-old man dating a twenty-year-old college girl, but the movie doesn’t condemn Nicholas Braun’s character for that. The film takes pains to show his perspective at times, with his ultimate flaw being complete self-involvement and failure to read social cues or handle rejection.
That said, the movie shows us that Emilia Jones’ Margot instigates the affair, with her being (inexplicably) charmed by him, with them having a friendly, text-based relationship that only really starts to go awry when they meet in person. The film will no doubt be discussed for featuring one of the most prolonged, uncomfortable screen kisses. Yet, the movie has sympathy for him – up to a point, anyway – with the idea that he’s utterly incapable of dealing with the fact that a woman who once liked him can change her mind. It’s here that Braun’s Robert starts to lose our sympathy, but even when you hate him most, Fogel and Ashford make sure to include a somewhat redeeming moment. However, I can’t imagine anyone watching this (male or female) walking away not thinking Robert’s a creep.
If it sounds heavy-handed, be assured. It’s not. This is a really fun movie directed with major flair from Fogel. Years ago, she directed a forgettable rom-com called The Spy Who Dumped Me that, for all its faults, had one dynamic action sequence in the middle of the movie. Fogel delivers on that promise with this well-done mash-up of comedy and drama. She sprinkles in tons of pop culture nods (Robert is obsessed with Harrison Ford even though – to put it mildly – he’s no Han Solo). Margot seems to work at the coolest movie theatre in the world, with them showing American Graffiti, Blacula, and many more classics throughout the film, and the soundtrack is top-shelf.
However, the movie lives and dies through its performances, and both leads are excellent. Emilia Jones became a top actress overnight thanks to CODA, and she delivers on that promise with another charismatic lead performance. Her awkward chemistry with Braun is spot-on, to the point that you believe these two might go on a date. Braun has the more challenging role, in that he has to play a guy much of the audience will hate, but he doesn’t turn him into a cartoon character. I’ve met many guys like Robert who, in most situations, aren’t necessarily bad but have deep-seated issues with rejection. The two are supported by Geraldine Viswanathan’s Taylor, Margot’s supportive but often insufferably self-righteous roomie. Hope Davis also has a small role as Margot’s mom, while Isabella Rossellini shows up in a fun part as Margot’s favorite university professor.
Cat Person is the movie that will undoubtedly inspire a lot of talks when it eventually comes out. Some may dismiss it offhand, but it is a story about modern dating that’s perfectly suited to our era. More than that, it’s even-handed and, most importantly, thoroughly entertaining. If an indie label like A24 picked this up, they would have a hit on their hands. Even if you don’t think this is for you – check it out.