One of the most anticipated films of this year’s Sundance Film Festival was “Cat Person,” the feature adaptation of Kristen Roupenian’s viral New Yorker story of the same name. The Jan. 21 world premiere left the audience at the Eccles Theatre cringing and cackling at this dark look at modern dating.
Directed by Susanna Fogel from a screenplay by Michelle Ashford, “Cat Person” stars “CODA” breakout Emilia Jones and “Succession” favorite Nicholas Braun as a new couple whose lives get tangled together amid many red flags and miscommunications. Told from the point of view of Jones’ savvy college student Margot, her relationship with older local man Robert (Braun) starts out strained as, despite mutual attraction, their communication styles don’t match. But as their romance moves forward, the film touches upon contemporary discussions like the shifting nature of consent and honesty in relationships.
“We want to show people the grey areas in intimacy and dating,” Fogel said at the post-screening Q&A.
Ashford said one of the things that attracted her to the project was the chance to write complicated characters.
“A lot of people thought that one of these characters had to be the villain,” she said. “What we are saying is that no one is the villain — it’s just a catastrophic miscommunication.”
Said miscommunication led to the most sharp reactions at the premiere. From Margot’s point of view, the audience bears witness to a long and uncomfortable first kiss, as well as an endlessly awkward sex scene, both of which left the crowd groaning with despair.
In fact, when asked at the Q&A about the key to developing his chemistry with Jones, Braun said, “The first thing I think of is the horrible kiss — that was Step 1 to figuring that out.”
Yet the misunderstandings led to many of the biggest laughs, too, such as multiple quick-cut fantasy sequences where Margot tries to understand Robert, including a running joke featuring Fred Melamed as a wise therapist.
Despite a handful of walkouts during the violent final act, “Cat Person” explored complex emotional issues in a fun and visually striking manner, with every joke hitting and every cringe moment cutting deep with the engaged audience.
It was fitting that when first presenting the film, Fogel said, “I hope it makes you all very uncomfortable.”
“Cat Person” is a top sales title at the festival this year. Studiocanal/ UTA are representing the rights worldwide.