‘Cat Person’ goes from viral story to Sundance gossip – with an extra chapter

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Light spoilers for the movie “Cat Person” are in this article.

PARK CITY, UTAH – If ever there was a movie meant to blow up a group text thread is “Cat Person”.

“‘Cat Person’ is all I want to talk about,” a young filmmaker wrote in a massive Sundance Film Festival panel chat I’m in after its Saturday night premiere, along with an emoji of a face with tears in her eyes. “I have very strong opinions haha,” someone else replied.

Apparently everyone at Sundance has a lot to say about the highly anticipated adaptation of the viral New Yorker short story, starring Emilia Jones (“CODA”) and Nicholas Braun (Cousin Greg of “Succession”) about a youngster from 20 years. wife, Margot, who begins an essentially textual work relationship with an older man, Robert, and then has an epic bad date with him.

Kristen Roupenian’s story has kicked off a thousand Twitter threads about consent and bad kisses (and ghosting, and is it okay to change your mind about having sex with someone halfway through?) -path of the act) when it was released in December 2017, as the company began to struggle with the fallout from #MeToo. (The story was published just two months after the New York Times and New Yorker first investigative reports regarding Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual abuse.) Listening to the conversations of the audience leaving the premiere on Saturday was like To hear those twitter threads revive, five years later. Nightmarish date stories are seemingly as resonant as ever.

Unlike Roupenian’s subtle short story, the film version of “Cat Person” is unmistakably a darkly comedic horror film about the hellish landscape of modern dating. Director Susanna Fogel (who co-wrote the screenplay for 2019’s ‘Booksmart’) and writer Michelle Ashford (creator of ‘Masters of Sex’) delved into gender elements, often skipping between reality and Margot’s violent visions of being in constant danger, simply because she is a woman. Every trip home alone at night and every touch of the arm carries the potential for harm, with Heather McIntosh’s score adding a heightened sense of dread.

The film also adds Isabella Rossellini as Margot’s teacher, giving biting commentary on the gender dynamics of ants and bees, and a skeptical feminist best friend (Geraldine Viswanatha of “Blockers”) who constantly points out how bad this relationship is. seems like bad news, only that Margot ignores all of his warnings.

“Michelle and I talked a lot about trying to manifest those internalized fears into an externalized sense of danger,” Fogel said during the post-screening Q&A, “even if it’s just that feeling of that adrenaline , that cortisol flash of danger that I think a lot of women have when they’re in a situation with someone they don’t know, suddenly aware of how big this person they just got in a car with ‘they met on Tinder a day ago and now they’re driving down a highway at 80 miles an hour.

The film’s biggest supporters seemed to be those who entered it blind and weren’t so taken aback by the extreme worst-case scenario. third act, which plays out what happens after Roupenian’s story ends, when Robert goes after Margot for a text after she ghosts him. It’s not nuanced, but it’s a fascinating adaptation of what seemed like unfilmable source material that takes place mostly over text and inside Margot’s head.

Audiences responded to this third act with plenty of nervous, nervous laughter and hands over eyes – but it also gives Robert a chance to say what was going on in his head and grill Margot on what he might have been. make of bad. . The man sitting next to me said he appreciated the addition, because he had gone through those same kinds of emotions, jumping to all kinds of conclusions after a woman he was dating inexplicably distant.

At the center of the film, as in the story, Robert is a truly terrible kisser, whom Margot ignores about to have sex with him on their first date, even as she is increasingly rejected by him. “Trying to figure out how to kiss badly and extremely badly is a lot of fun for two actors to figure out,” Braun said in a short interview. “Was that weird enough?” No? Let’s get weirder.'”

As for the sex scene, director Fogel made the choice to place another out-of-body Margot in the room, giving comedic commentary as the act unfolds. Jones said that despite the darkness of the material, there were plenty of laughs, even halfway through takes.

Although the film is Margot’s story, Fogel said, she felt Robert’s casting was what needed to be most specific. He needed to be attractive, a little quirky and of an imposing size, so Margot feels a certain uneasiness. “Nick is kind of a magical creature in that he plays nerdy on TV, but also, he’s an idol around the world,” Fogel said. “He’s kind of the perfect mix because you have to believe that she would be interested in him and be able to project onto him. Nick has that chameleon-like quality where in a certain light you look at him and say, ‘Oh, c he’s a top man,” and then other times he’s insecure or says the wrong thing and you can back down from that attraction.

Braun also felt like he was tied to the awkwardness of the role. “Everyone has been a Robert in one way or another,” he said. “You try really hard, or do anything macho that will make you more attractive, or dress a certain way to impress a woman. I think I was also awkward and awkward and too eager, like, “Oh my God, I want this so badly,” and then you screw something up because it’s so uneven.

Whatever one thinks of the film and its success as an adaptation (it has yet to be sold for distribution), it seemed to resonate with audiences, who kept talking about the gray areas of dating. and mess. to mate at house parties across Park City that night. Fogel said in the Q&A that the film was a necessary evolution of the female revenge thriller that rose to prominence after the judgment on men in the late 2010s.

“We wanted to explore the ambivalence and the idea that consent is an ongoing thing and people change their minds,” Fogel said, “and there has to be room for that in the culture as well. Sometimes , you might wish you weren’t in a place, when you’ve done all the things that led you to that place. And what else? Was the other person supposed to know? There’s such a pressure to be absolutely sure of what you want and be able to articulate it, otherwise you lose your ability to escape a situation.

Reviews have been mixed. Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times criticized its “bludgeoned storytelling” which turns into “a bloody, fiery and spectacularly violent mess”, while Variety admired its “risky” and “bold” third act. Indiewire called it “appropriately excruciating,” glowingly, and said “it’ll set your teeth on edge and raise the hair on the back of your neck, as it should.”

Roupenian said it was only the second time she had seen the film and she still had a stomach ache after watching it. “It got me thinking about how experiences that seem internal and invisible aren’t,” she said. “They’re all on his face minute by minute and yet it’s still so hard to talk about. … Not everyone has the same experience and it’s shocking, incredible and scary.

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