Sundance movie review: 'Cat Person' muddles message and loses plot
UPI News Service, 01/22/2023
Cat Person, which premiered Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, has a valid perspective on relationship dynamics. Unfortunately, the execution is as awkward and slow as a bad first date.
College sophomore Margot (Emilia Jones) meets Robert (Nicholas Braun), the cat person, at the movie theater where she works. She starts texting him and seeing him outside the theater, but worries he could be violent.
Cat Person begins with Margaret Atwood's quote "Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them." The film depicts the world that makes women fear for their lives, but loses focus and muddles the message.
Margot checks in with her friend Taylor (Geraldine Viswanathan) when she walks home from work alone so somebody knows where she is. Being alone with Robert causes Margot to imagine the ways in which he could attack her, in scenes that are indistinguishable from the reality of the film.
In establishing Margot and Robert's awkward getting-to-know each other phase, Cat Person spends altogether too much time between significant moments. In particular, a trip home over a college break introduces Margot's mother (Hope Davis) and other people who may have informed her view of relationships but really stalls the film.
There is some comedy and emotion in Margot and Robert's courtship. Margot tolerates Robert's basic taste in movies, his bad kissing and their awkward first time in bed.
Margot also gets embarrassed when her youth and inexperience shows. One sequence in which she converses with a version of herself having an out of body experience drags on after both versions of Margot have made their point.
Certainly, women tolerate even worse men than Robert every day, but there are probably more cinematic ways to convey it. A few laughs aren't enough to justify indulging in awkwardness long past the scene's purpose.
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Cat Person is not unsympathetic to Robert. He is just as awkward and in his own head as Margot.
Robert is vulnerable too, but being an older man with a 20-year-old gives him the upper hand. Cat Person explores how movies teach men to equate aggression with romance, and he spirals to uncomfortable degrees.
The confusion both Robert and Margot experience is an unfortunate powder keg of a society with social media, apps and entertainment telling stories with mixed messages. But that manifests as far more dangerous to a woman than it does to a man.
A tight 90 minutes could make this point, land the comedy and tonal shifts and maybe reach the audience who needs to show more empathy towards women. By the time Cat Person has made its point, it's probably lost most of the audience.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.
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