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Critically Clawed: Cat Person's Viral Triumph Takes a Cinematic Turn for the Worse in Film Adaptation

  • Culture
  • Thursday, 23 November 2023 07:22

CAT PERSON: A Cinematic Unraveling ★★ (MA15+) | 120 minutes

In the annals of literary anomalies, Kristen Roupenian's 2017 short story "Cat Person" achieved the rare feat of going viral, resonating with readers globally during the burgeoning #MeToo era. The 7000-word narrative, originally published in The New Yorker, delicately unraveled the awkward entanglement between 20-year-old Margot and 34-year-old Robert, shedding light on the complexities of modern relationships. Now, six years later, the tale's transition to the big screen grapples with an unexpected challenge — a runtime that seems inexplicably bloated.

In Roupenian's original work, the nuanced power dynamics and the sinister undercurrent were elegantly conveyed through spare writing, inviting readers to engage with the narrative on a cerebral level. However, director Susanna Fogel and screenwriter Michelle Ashford, in their feature-length adaptation, opt for excess and over-explanation, diluting the subtlety that made the short story a cultural lightning rod.

The film struggles to find meaning within its extended duration, opting for explicitness where the short story thrived on ambiguity. From heavy-handed quotes by Margaret Atwood to labored metaphors involving dogs and queen ants, the film meticulously spells out every detail, leaving little room for interpretation. The characters' progressive politics are not subtly woven into the narrative but are instead conspicuously signposted at every turn.

Margot's fiercely feminist room-mate Taylor, portrayed by Geraldine Viswanathan, operates a subreddit called The Vagenda, and Margot's ex-boyfriend is notably asexual. While the film's political stance is commendable, the delivery feels as subtle as a blow to the head with a copy of "The Second Sex." The movie, in its effort to convey a message, seemingly lacks trust in its audience's intelligence, opting for repetition to ensure no nuance is overlooked.

In drawing comparisons to Emerald Fennell's "Promising Young Woman," the film appears to follow a similar path of presenting Feminism 101 to the masses in a rather hamfisted manner. The challenge lies not in the message but in the execution, as "Cat Person" struggles to capture the essence of the original short story, leaving audiences with an adaptation that falls short of its viral predecessor's impact.

Navigating Genre Ambiguity: Cat Person's Cinematic Identity Crisis

The central quandary plaguing Cat Person, the film, emerges as it grapples with an identity crisis, uncertain of the genre it seeks to inhabit. There are instances when it teeters on the edge of a 500 Days of Summer-esque indie rom-com, where Emilia Jones' Margot assumes the role of the curtain-banged protagonist. Alongside her, Nicholas Braun portrays Robert as the stunted, mansplaining film nerd man-child—a 'nice guy' who initiates and doggedly pursues her, all against the backdrop of the movie theatre where she works.

In these moments, the film unfolds as a romance that traverses the realms of text-based interactions to the intricacies of real-life connections. The characters engage in rapid-fire text banter, a narrative choice that captures the essence of contemporary communication and serves as one of the film's more relatable aspects. The unfolding relationship, initially confined to digital exchanges, mirrors the multifaceted dynamics of modern connections—a nod to the evolving nature of romantic entanglements.

Yet, the film's struggle with genre becomes evident as it flits between the lighthearted tone of an indie rom-com and the weightier undercurrents of the original short story's exploration of power dynamics. The juxtaposition of Margot and Robert as characters reminiscent of a romantic comedy setup clashes with the darker nuances explored in the narrative. This genre ambiguity poses a challenge for the audience, as the film oscillates between moments of levity and those of more profound introspection.

As Cat Person grapples with defining its cinematic identity, the viewers are left navigating an intricate web of emotions, unsure of whether to embrace the whimsy of a romantic comedy or delve into the complexities that lie beneath the surface. The film's success in reconciling these disparate elements will likely shape its resonance with audiences, determining whether it emerges as a genre-defying triumph or succumbs to the pitfalls of its own ambiguity.

Cat Person's Cinematic Odyssey

In the intricate dance of genres and emotions, Cat Person finds itself at a crossroads, torn between the whimsical allure of indie rom-com territory and the weightier, darker undertones of its source material. The film's uncertainty regarding its cinematic identity becomes a pivotal factor in shaping the audience's experience, as it oscillates between the light-hearted charm of a 500 Days of Summer-esque romance and the profound exploration of power dynamics that defined the original short story.

As the curtain falls on the narrative, viewers are left grappling with the delicate balance the film attempts to strike—juxtaposing moments of levity, characterized by Emilia Jones' Margot and Nicholas Braun's Robert engaging in text banter and navigating the awkward dance of budding romance, with the more introspective and somber undertones that mirror the complexities of modern relationships.

The success of Cat Person hinges on its ability to harmonize these disparate elements, offering audiences a nuanced and cohesive cinematic experience. Will it emerge as a genre-defying triumph that seamlessly blends romance and introspection, or will the ambiguity surrounding its identity lead to a disconnect with viewers? Only time and the audience's discerning gaze will determine whether Cat Person's cinematic odyssey leaves an indelible mark or succumbs to the challenges of its own uncertain narrative identity.