Cat Person  (12A) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Susanna Fogel, US/France, 2023, 118 mins

Cast:  Emilia Jones, Nicholas Baun, Geraldine Viswanathan, Isabella Rosellini

Review by Carol Allen

The film opens with a quote from Margaret Attwood.   “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them” 

Based on a short story published in The New Yorker in 2017,which caught the imagination of young American women at the height of “Me Too” movement, its subject matter is the dangers of dating in the digital age and what is expected and required.   It is essentially however a portrait of a foolish ,paranoid and misandrist young woman. 

Student Margot (Emilia Jones) meets a rather gauche older man Robert (Nicholas Baun) through her part time job in a cinema kiosk.  She finds him quite attractive, so when he asks her for her phone number, she gives it to him. After which they exchange loads of silly text messages.  He then shows up at the entomology lab where she studies, with a bag full of junk food for dinner, manages to lock them both in a storeroom, apparently by accident and in breaking out destroys the ant colony that has been nurtured by Margot’s heavily feminist professor (Isabella Rosellini).

 After that disaster you’d think Margot might decide this nerd is not for her but no, she carries on with the flirty texts, agrees to go on a proper date with him, which is a total disaster, at the end of which she agrees voluntarily to go back to his place, where they have sex.  Really bad sex, which she doesn’t want or enjoy but doesn’t say so, in a disturbing and most effective scene, involving foolish Margot debating the issue with her more sensible inner self, while actually involved in the act.  One has to ask though, Is this girl out of her mind?  Has she not heard of the phrase, “I must get back home now” or similar?   Robert, as played by Baun, would have meekly accepted that. 

As well as the professor, who makes darkly symbolic remarks about the ineffectuality of male ants as compared to their queen, Margot’s best friend Taylor (Geraldine Viswanathan) doesn’t approve of Robert either and winds Margot up into thinking his pathetic attempts to keep her interest (via text of course) means he must be a stalker with evil intent.  It’s a wind up which feeds into Margot’s increasing paranoia with dramatic and disastrous consequences.

The initially shocking thing to someone of an older generation is the fact that it now appears to be common practice from this film for that initial and important stage of a new relationship to be conducted by text message rather than the two people involved being physically present.  At least in the olden days a couple would usually have a chance to suss each other out face to face, perhaps in the work place or social venue where they first met, or over a safe cup of coffee or meal in a public place.  Equally shocking is Margot’s paranoia, as demonstrated in the film.  We don’t really get to know Robert, but he is quite obviously a hopeless nerd rather than the potential sex murderer of her and Taylor’s overblown imagination.   Which would have become obvious to her pretty quickly, if only they’d had a few cups of coffee together instead of the text message exchanges.

However Jones is an attractive protagonist and despite the character’s mind boggling lack of common sense, the film and the actress hold the attention.  The climax however, which is tacked on to the material of the original short story, is ridiculously overblown.

The title by the way comes from the fact that Robert claims to be a cat person.   The cat makes one brief appearance.  The dog has a far bigger role.