Inspired by Kristen Roupenian’s short story of the same name (which is also the most-read piece of fiction ever published in The New Yorker), director Susanna Fogel‘s “Cat Person” takes a thoughtful, interesting, and cautionary tale about the perils of the modern dating scene and tacks on an icky third act that results in a massive misfire. Adapted for the screen by Michelle Ashford, her script adds an unnecessary continuation of Roupenian’s original work. Both the screenwriter and director take on too much and subsequently fail at all of it.
Margot (Emilia Jones) is a sophomore in college who works the concession stand at the local movie theater. She strikes up a conversation with frequent patron Robert (Nicholas Braun), an bumbling older guy who expresses interest in her. They begin flirting over texts and eventually go on a date, sparking an awkward romance. But as the two get closer and red flags lead to a growing, palpable discomfort, Margot begins having second thoughts. This distrust leads to nightmares, realistic visions, and unsettling fantasies that may be a sign of her intuition warning her that Robert may be a dangerous boyfriend.
Fogel relies on too many dream sequences and fakeouts to keep the pace of a thriller, which leads to a further identity crisis for the film. Is it horror? Comedy? Satire? She tries to tackle too much and lacks a cohesive, clear vision. The misdirections get very frustrating because soon you don’t know what’s real and what’s imagined, and that hurts the storytelling. This could have been a film that presented an urgent exploration of the dangers of the modern dating scene (particularly for women), and while the story is told from Margot’s point of view, I felt more sympathetic for Robert than for her. That proved to be problematic, especially because it’s clear that wasn’t the intention.
While Robert isn’t exactly the nicest guy around, Margot is also far from admirable. She absolutely leads him on, and he loses his temper out of frustration due to her cruelty. I am not defending Robert’s behavior in any way, but when he explains how he saw their initial meeting and the relationship from his perspective, you really feel for the guy. It’s a cautionary tale that you should always trust your gut, but sometimes that sense of danger may not be based in reality. In this age of hyper-vigilance, a misunderstanding can have dire consequences.
Thematically, “Cat Person” bites off far more than it can chew. At the heart of the film is a story about a series of misconceptions and gross miscommunication, but Ashford takes it too far by adding a final chapter to Roupenian’s original piece that’s very unpleasant. The ending is so off-putting that it becomes a fitting finale to this uneven, disjointed movie.
By: Louisa Moore