Intelligent, witty, shocking, and brilliant
In 2017 The New Yorker published a short story by Kristen Roupenian, Cat Person. It caused a sensation, going unexpectedly viral. Unusually for a New Yorker piece, its protagonist and intended audience was quite young. It tells the seemingly simple story of a college Sophomore who meets a guy briefly, spends some time texting him, then finally goes on a proper date with him, and is disappointed. She then tries to get out of seeing him again, and he is unhappy about this. Yet within this simple framework are writ large the micro-fantasies and micro-aggressions, communication issues, and entitlements, of contemporary dating and relationships.
Now director Susanna Fogel has brought this story to the screen.
With a solid screenplay by Michelle Ashford as a foundation, Fogel is able to craft a (very) short story, into a full feature without any sense of over-egging the pudding. The script takes the arc beyond that of the original story in a way that is logical, and maintains the tension. Margot’s inner monologue is given life, and we witness more of Robert’s confused feelings. Yet the narrative remains true to Roupenian’s original (and brilliant) vision.
Emilia Jones as Margot and Nicholas Braun as Robert are perfectly cast. Although not as chunky as the original character, Robert is still portrayed as older, and slightly messier, than the petite, bouncy, barely-out-of-adolescence, Margot. Together Jones and Braun have the perfect screen anti-chemistry, something much more difficult to pull-off than a believable love-match. In supporting roles are Australian actor Geraldine Viswanathan as Margot’s sensible, feminist, room-mate, and the wonderful Isabella Rossellini as Margot’s research supervisor Dr Zabala.
Visually Cat Person is a delight. The opening scene, with Margot standing bored behind the counter of the local art-house cinema where she works, is a slight nod to Wes Anderson. Scenes awash with sub-text are filmed and edited in a way that makes them accessible and understandable, as well as often very funny. Fogel and Ashford have certainly brought out the humour in the story, without minimizing the more serious questions it raises, and issues it interrogates.
This is no teen romance, nor predicable rom-com. It is not specifically aimed at a young audience: there is much here that anyone who has ever had a relationship, will relate to, especially those who have been on the dating scene, even pre-online. And even if you don’t relate, this is a film worth watching for its intrinsic value as a masterful piece of cinema.
Perfectly paced, with expertly pitched performances, and an intelligent and witty screenplay, Cat Person is one of the year’s best films.
Cat Person opens tomorrow, November 23rd.