Review by Sean Boelman
Lots of people have tried and failed to make films capturing the terrifying dating scene that Gen Z faces, but few have managed to capture these anxieties properly. Cat Person is a rare exception, a romantic thriller inspired by a true story that takes the audience along for a wild ride that is equal parts hilarious and distressing.
Based on a short story by Kristen Roupenian that appeared in The New Yorker, the movie follows a college student who begins a relationship with an older man, only for things to take a sinister turn when she decides to break things off. It’s a film that really strives to make the viewer feel uncomfortable and awkward, and it does so without a hitch.
The movie is not subtle whatsoever on its commentary on the fragility of the male ego and how dangerous it has become. And while the film fails to really interrogate the issue or the elements of our patriarchal society that allowed the male ego to reach such a dangerous point, it does a good job of pointing out something to which many people are still unfortunately oblivious.
Part of what makes the movie so interesting is its character development. Michelle Ashford’s screenplay does an excellent job of making the audience feel charmed by Robert and Margot at first, only for them to both reveal their true colors as the story unfolds. We definitely know where the story is heading, but the writing is strong enough to make us question whether our perception is right.
The two central performances are both pretty fantastic. Nicholas Braun shines with a performance that requires a great deal of range, particularly in the third act when the dichotomy turns into something with much less pronounced lines. Emilia Jones is also extremely charming here, apart from a few scenes in which she goes a bit too big.
Susanna Fogel directs the film very sleekly, with colorful yet claustrophobic cinematography and a soundtrack that features some really fun needle drops. A few of the movie’s more ambitious elements, like the breaking of the fourth wall, are a bit overused, but they are shot quite effectively nonetheless.
The shit really hits the fan in the last thirty minutes, but even for the first two acts, it keeps viewers engaged. Even if the suspense is built in ways that could be considered unearned — like the creation of threats that aren’t really there — it will constantly keep viewers on the edge of their seats and laughing uncomfortably.
Cat Person has gotten a very divisive reception out of Sundance, but for the target audience of younger viewers, it’s likely to be an entertainingly awkward watch. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s genuinely entertaining despite its many flaws.
Cat Person is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.