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Sundance Reviews: Cat Person, Justice, Fair Play and the Angry Good Man

cat lover — the film adaptation of the New York short story that took over your Twitter feed in December 2017 — begins with a now-familiar paraphrase of a quote by Margaret Atwood: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them,” reads the onscreen text. “Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

The crowd laughed nervously as the words emerged cat lover‘s Sundance premiere. It’s a solid synopsis for the film, chronicling the doomed relationship of 20-year-old Margot (Emilia Jones) and a very tall man named Robert (Nicholas Braun). They meet at the movie theater where she works behind the concession desk. They have a stimulating and exciting texting relationship, followed by a far less glittering face-to-face relationship, and then it all goes wrong.

Two young women sit in the dark and look at the brightly lit screen of a phone.

Geraldine Viswanathan and Emilia Jones in cat lover.
Sundance Institute

The film is good until it’s not; Director Susanna Fogel deftly brings Margot’s inner narrative into a visual medium, adding supporting characters (like best friend Tamara, played by the always fantastic Geraldine Viswanathan), deftly employing dream sequences, and portraying Margot’s fluctuating experience with visceral precision. But there is a third act that destroys the ambiguity of the original story. In the short story, we are left with many questions, just as you would at the end of such a relationship. But the film tries to tie up the loose ends, and the result is maddening.

Still, I enjoyed it the most. And the Atwood paraphrase kept running through my mind because I started ticking off the other movies I’d just seen at Sundance that could have said it too. There’s a certain kind of “good guy” who erupts in a blistering rage when his ego is bruised – in other words, when he suspects women are laughing at him – and made him seem on screen in a risk-averse, male-driven Hollywood not always possible. This Sundance proves it.

In cat loverFor example, Margot tries desperately not to assert her own dislike of sex with Robert, telling herself it’s just easier to pull off. He’s taller than her and she worries all the time about putting herself in danger. But in his bedroom, she is no longer afraid that Robert, still mostly a stranger, is some kind of maniac serial killer who is setting her up in a trap. She just worries about how he might react when he’s offended – and does something that she really regrets about it.

Two people in business attire stand close together.  The woman looks at the man.

Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor in fair play.
Sundance Institute

Margot’s sentiment feels well paired fair play, another of the festival’s liveliest films, is a relationship drama inspired, if not really followed, by the outlines of an old-school erotic thriller. (Netflix bought the film for a cool $20 million, so you can see it soon.) This time, the focus is on the couple, Emily and Luke (Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich), rising high-finance stars who have to hide their relationship at work. But when she gets promoted over him, things turn sour.

fair play is scathing and compelling, but more often than not it’s the kind of movie that makes you wince in approval — or at least if you’ve ever hunkered down to escape the wrath of an insecure man. Luke seems to be the best kind of supportive friend, until he senses others laughing at him, the life he firmly believes he deserves to take down, and that Emily, who adores him, might just as well by looking at another lens.

Which emerges clearly in fair play – and in cat lover, for that matter — for these men who pride themselves on being “good guys,” the women they date aren’t the problem. These women are accommodating and supportive well beyond their own comfort level. It’s that these men believe they deserve something (a woman, a job, a very special kind of respect) just because they exist; if they get even a hint of the opposite, they erupt in verbal and physical violence.

You may not have come across this before; maybe you’ve never experienced it firsthand. But I assure you, someone you love does. i know i have What both films manage to do, and is hard to achieve in any other medium, is to put the viewer in the mental space of women cowering or just worried that their very reasonable confidence and self-esteem is being threatened by man, and that there will be consequences.

Crucially, both films are less about the individual characters and more about the world around them. It’s a world that cultivates men like Luke and Robert, makes them promises they can’t keep, and then quietly gives them permission to lash out when they don’t get what they want. That’s why they feel like they’re made of one piece justicea documentary by Doug Liman about the allegations against current Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and what the women who accused him endured as they went public with their stories.

justice focuses primarily on Deborah Ramirez, who claims that she was the subject of grotesque harassment by Kavanaugh while she was a student at Yale. Ramirez’s story was told, but for the film she revisited the story and speaks about the fallout from the allegations. Coupled with Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before Congress and Kavanaugh’s own pre-confirmation hearings, it’s quite a brutal film to watch.

A picture of Brett Kavanaugh clutching a document.

The documentation justiceby filmmaker Doug Liman, focuses on allegations against Brett Kavanaugh.
Sundance Institute

But what stands out in concert with films like cat lover and fair play is the vehemence – which reads onscreen as almost inexplicably explosive – with which Kavanaugh denied the allegations. his anger. His inability to display the cool humility one would expect of someone at the nation’s highest court. The little lies he tells for no reason, which the film shows with journalistic rigor. His glowing, red-faced anger.

It’s like watching Luke or Robert explode on Emily or Margot in totally disproportionate proportion to what they explode over because there’s a lot more going on here than just anger at perceived mistreatment. It’s the anger of someone who’s been ripped off, the foolish panic of a child who’s had their toy taken away. And on screen you can look at it and see how ugly and irrational it is. You cannot walk out of any of these films feeling comforted and at ease. They are a testament to the broken world we live in and how very, very far we must go.

Fair play, cat personand justice Premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. cat lover is distributed by Netflix; fair play and justice currently waiting for distribution.

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