RHalfway adequate films are constantly being made from mediocre books or stories. But every once in a while you get an adaptation so misguided that even its not-so-nuanced source material looks like a masterpiece. Susanna Fogels cat lover—based on Kristen Roupenian’s 2017 hot button New Yorker Short story and its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival – takes everything that was admirable or even captivating about Roupenian’s story and turns it into a jumbled, cluttered mess. When it comes to dating, we undoubtedly live in confusing times. But nobody needs a confused movie about dating confusion, and cat lovers ideas are so fuzzy that it is impossible to know his goals.
Roupenian’s “Cat Person” – about a young college student who ponders a possible romance with an obscure but somewhat aggressive older man, alternating between trying to prove him right when the doubt is right and himself, albeit in a joking manner Wise, Worries He Could Be a Serial Killer — was a mediocre piece of fiction whose quality, or lack thereof, proved incidental: it appealed to so many young women that it went viral. There was a certain rugged force to Roupenian’s story. His closing lines, a trail of increasingly angry text messages, hit like brass knuckles in his brute misogyny.
But turning a compact short story into a full-length feature is a challenge, and it seems that Fogel (one of the co-authors of book smart) and screenwriter Michelle Ashford (master of sex) tried to solve this problem by writing a bizarre thriller with its own ending. Emilia Jones (from the Oscar-winning KODA) is college student Margot who, while working the concession stand at an independent movie theater, makes the fatal mistake of clumsily flirting with a customer, Robert (Nicholas Braun); She teases him for requesting a package of red vines, which she says no one ever buys. He seems upset, or at least just upset at the joke. But he comes back later and makes his move: “Listen, concession girl. Why don’t you give me your number?” His request sounds almost like a command. Maybe that’s part of the power up.
Geraldine Viswanathan and Emilia Jones in Cat Person
Courtesy of the Sundance Institute
Margot and Robert exchange flirtatious, supposedly clever texts. He asks her which cereal she prefers. Is it Reese’s Puffs, Fruity Pebbles or Cap’n Crunch? She finds this delightful and plays along, though Robert’s apparent passive aggressiveness oozes through the banter. But Margot keeps having doubts about his answers, which is all too easy when you’re meeting a new person. She doesn’t want to misinterpret him or hurt his feelings. Her roommate Tamara (the ever-appealing Geraldine Viswanathan) warns her to be careful, a request Margot ignores when Robert texts him offering to show up at the campus lab, where she works late nights. He brings her some snacks; he then proceeds to explore the lab like the entitled white man he appears to be, stepping right through a door marked “Danger,” resulting in him accidentally vandalizing an ant colony that is Margot’s favorite professor (wonderful played by Isabella Rossellini), has been nursing for 17 years.
That is cat lover‘s first misstep: if you have any sense at all, you could be yelling at the screen at this point, urging Margot to run a mile from this guy. Worse, he creates a playlist for her that includes “In My Room” by the Beach Boys, a beautiful, haunting song, but not one you’d send a girl you’re interested in unless you try to signal that you’re a psychopath. (Remarkably, none of these details appear in Roupenian’s story.) Run, Margot, run! Instead, she continues to text Robert, enchanting him into a person he clearly isn’t, but still wondering if maybe he’s a killer. They have a real date, after all – a Harrison Ford fanatic, he insists on picking the movie: The Empire Strikes Back. (Run, Margot, run!) Then they go back to him and have really bad sex. Meanwhile, Margot is having a conversation with another version of herself, who is standing across the room, repeating what a horrible decision the real Margot makes. Eventually, with Tamara’s help – or interference, depending on how you look at it – Margot ends what was never a relationship in the first place.
Roupenian’s story ends shortly after this text split with a shrill one-word kicker. But Fogel and Ashford stretch the storyline by another half-hour and add a drawn-out ending that’s filled with fear, paranoia, and violence. For much of its almost two-hour runtime cat lover follows the baseline of Roupenian’s story so closely you know you’re watching an adaptation. But in the end one wonders if the filmmakers really processed the story at all. It’s as if they somehow thought Roupenian’s desperate, alarmed look at the illegibility of men just didn’t have enough clout – so they ended their film with an ambiguous, inconclusive nightmare scenario that leaves one wondering if Margot, the so is apparently healthy, it is not. She’s not as confused as her wannabe lover. cat lover seems wanting to raise questions about gray areas of consent, about men who hate women but don’t seem to know it, about the complexities of functioning in the real world when we spend so much of our lives online. But asking questions is not the same as wrestling with them. Among other things, “Cat Person” was a story about our inability, our reluctance to heed red flags – after all, humans are creatures who want to believe in love. but cat lover take the easy way. It means whatever you think it means, which is about the same as meaning nothing at all.
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