Back in 2017, Kristen Roupenian’s New Yorker short story about a 20-year-old college student who gets into an unpleasant relationship with an older man turned into a massive social-media sensation. For months, it was the center of buzzy conversations, with readers endlessly debating its intentions and lessons. (And eventually, its origins.) Margot, the student, lets her relationship with 30-something geek Robert go on longer than she wants and become more intimate than she wants, but she doesn’t know how to communicate her own contradictory desires. For his part, Robert, a “shockingly bad” kisser and even worse sexual partner, is huffy, controlling, condescending, and generally unaware of (or uninterested in) her feelings.
How much of what happens between them is her fault, how much it’s his, and whether that matters became a huge debate topic. But the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation loses a lot of that nuance in the rush to turn the story into a thriller about a woman and her stalker. Punctuated by a softened version of a famous quote attributed to Margaret Atwood — “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” — the trailer leans on the threat of male violence much more than the story does. (Atwood, incidentally, did say something similar to that quote, but the actual version wasn’t as succinct.)
Directed by Susanna Fogel (a director on The Flight Attendant and Utopia, and a writer on Booksmart), the movie adaptation got mixed reviews at Sundance 2023. Those reviews and this initial trailer suggest a sharp shift in tone from the story, and an additional third act. In this adaptation, after Margot (Emilia Jones, the lead of CODA) recoils from Robert (Succession’s Nicholas Braun), she worries that he’s stalking her.
The trailer is full of horror-movie-style scenes of Margot cringing as his aggressive texts roll in and looking behind her on dark streets, or spotting him lurking outside her workplace. It’s a much more cinema-friendly direction for the story, but it’s worth wondering whether the film version will spark any of the same kinds of conversation about consent, responsibility in a relationship, and women owning and expressing their own desires.
Cat Person will debut in theaters on October 6.