HomeEntertainmentMovies'Cat Person' Sundance premiere has the festival buzzing

‘Cat Person’ Sundance premiere has the festival buzzing

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

PARK CITY, UTAH – If ever there were a movie meant to blow up a group text thread, it’s “Cat Person.”

“‘Cat Person’ is all I want to talk about,” one young female filmmaker wrote in a massive Sundance Film Festival group chat I joined after the Saturday night premiere, accompanied by an emoji of a teary-eyed face. “I have very strong opinions haha,” another wrote back.

Apparently, everyone at Sundance has a lot to say about the much-anticipated adjustment of the New Yorker’s viral short storystarring Emilia Jones (“CODA”) and Nicholas Braun (cousin Greg from “Succession”) about a 20-year-old woman, Margot, who lives a mostly text-based relationship with an older man, Robert, and then goes on an epically bad date with him.

Kristen Roupenian’s story launched a thousand Twitter threads about consent and bad kisses (and ghosting, and is it okay to change your mind about having sex with someone mid-act) when it came out in December 2017, as society began to grapple with the consequences of #MeToo. (The story was published just two months after the New York Times and New Yorker’s initial investigative reports on Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual abuse.) Listening to the audience chatter as they exited the Saturday premiere was like hearing those Twitter threads be resuscitated five years later. Stories of nightmarish dates are apparently as resonant as ever.

However, in a major departure from Roupenian’s subtle short story, the movie version of “Cat Person” is undeniably a darkly comedic horror flick about the hellscape of modern dating. Director Susanna Fogel (who co-wrote the screenplay for 2019’s “Booksmart”) and writer Michelle Ashford (creator of “Masters of Sex”) leaned towards genre elements, often jumping between reality and Margot’s violent visions of being in constant danger simply because she is a woman. Every walk home alone at night and every touch of the arm can cause damage, with Heather McIntosh’s score adding a heightened sense of dread.

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The film also adds Isabella Rossellini as Margot’s professor, who caustically comments on the gender dynamics of ants and bees, and a skeptical feminist best friend (Geraldine Viswanatha of “Blockers”) who constantly points out that this relationship seems like bad news, only to make Margot ignore all her warnings.

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

The film’s biggest supporters seemed to be those who went in blind and weren’t too upset by the film’s extreme, worst-case scenario. act three, which plays out what happens after the brutal ending of Roupenian’s story, when Robert lashes out at Margot over text after she ghosts him. It’s not nuanced, but it’s a fascinating adaptation of what seemed to be unfilmable source material that largely takes place over text and in Margot’s head.

The audience responded to that third act with plenty of squirming, nervous laughter and hands over their eyes – but it also gives Robert a chance to say what was going on in his head and grill Margot about what he could have done that was wrong. The man sitting next to me said he appreciated the addition, as he had been going through the same emotions, that he jumped to conclusions after a woman he was dating inexplicably pulled out.

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The centerpiece of the film, as in the story, is that Robert is a truly horrible kisser, whom Margot ignores on the way to having sex with him on their first date, even though she grows to dislike him more and more. “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 brief interview. “’Was that weird enough? No? Let’s go weirder.’”

As for the sex scene, director Fogel made the choice to put a different, out-of-body Margot in the room, who provided comedic commentary as the act drew to a close. Jones said that despite the darkness of the material, there were many laughs, even halfway through the shoot.

While the movie is Margot’s story, Fogel said, she felt Robert’s casting needed to be the most specific. He had to be attractive, a little different and imposing in size, so Margot feels uncomfortable. “Nick is kind of a magical creature because he plays nerdy on TV, but he’s also a heartthrob in the world,” Fogel said. “He’s pretty much the perfect mix because you have to believe she would be interested in him and project onto him.” Nick has this chameleon-like quality where you look at him in a certain light and say, “Oh, that’s a leading man,” and other times he’s insecure or saying the wrong thing and you can flinch from that attraction.

Braun also felt akin to the awkwardness of the role. “Everyone has been a Robert in one way or another,” he said. “You try really hard, or do whatever macho thing that makes you more attractive, or you dress a certain way to impress a woman. I think I’ve also been awkward and awkward and overly lusty, like “Oh God I want this so bad,” and then you screw something up because it’s so uneven.

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Whatever anyone may think of the movie and its success as an adaptation (it hasn’t been sold for distribution yet), it seemed to strike a chord with audiences, who kept talking about the gray areas of dating and the messiness. of coupling at house parties in 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 in the late 2010s following the reckoning on men.

“We wanted to explore ambivalence and the idea that consent is an ongoing thing and that people change their mind,” Fogel said, “and there also has to be room to talk about that in the culture. Sometimes you wish you weren’t in one place was, while you did all the things that led you to that place. And then what? Did the other person need to know? There’s such a pressure to be absolutely sure of what you want and to be able to articulate it, otherwise you forfeit your wealth to escape a situation.

Reviews are mixed. Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times criticized the “popping stories” that devolve into “a bloody, fiery, and spectacularly violent mess” while Variety admired his “risky” and “bold” third act. Indiewire called it “suitably unbearable”, in a complimentary manner, saying “it will cut your teeth on the edge and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, just as it should.”

Roupenian said it was only the second time she saw the film and her stomach still hurt after watching it. “It got me thinking about how experiences that feel internal and invisible actually aren’t,” she said. “They’re all on her face minute by minute and yet it’s still so hard to talk about. … Everyone doesn’t have the same experience and that’s shocking and amazing and scary.”

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