February 3, 2023

Sundance 2023 Reviews: “Cat Person,” “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields,” & “My Animal”


CAT PERSON:  It seems to be necessary to establish one’s bona fides (or lack thereof) before commenting on Susanna Fogel’s Cat Person, so I’ll note that I’ve never read Kristen Roupenian’s celebrated New Yorker short story.  I’m given to understand, however, that the entire third act of Michelle Ashford’s adaptation is an add-on, which makes sense, because that’s when the film goes seriously haywire.  Up until that point, Cat Person is an often clever, insightful commentary on 21st-century dating.  Margot (Emilia Jones) is a college student who works at the concession stand in a revival moviehouse, where she banters with the somewhat older ticketbuyer Robert (Nicholas Braun).  The two begin a texting relationship, bringing into play the vagaries of online representation and its relationship to the real world, as well as modern rom-com dynamics like how and when to respond to each text from the other.  A B story about Margot’s roommate (Geraldine Viswanathan) provides another angle on internet communication.  Eventually, Margot and Robert go out for an evening in person, and the short story ends not long after their very different reactions to that night.  Cat Person the movie, though, goes on with an ill-judged shift to a sort of semi-comic violent thriller, which feels (and apparently is) completely out of step with everything that’s preceded it.  Even before that, Fogel and Ashford have made frequent use of “cinematic” metaphors and tropes (there’s a lot about Margot’s study of ant colonies, under a professor played by Isabella Rossellini, and also multiple visualized flashes of Margot’s thoughts and a central sequence where different versions of Margot converse with each other).  Cat Person is at its best when it stays away from all this fanciness and concentrates on the complexity of the interactions between Margot and Robert, finely performed by Jones and Braun.  In trying to be more and bigger than its source, it diminishes itself.

PRETTY BABY: BROOKE SHIELDS (Hulu):  Lana Wilson’s workmanlike documentary is centered around the participation of Brooke Shields herself, who talks at length about her career and very public private life.  The film wants to use Shields as a springboard to a history of pop culture and sexual politics from the 1970s, when her teen sexuality was commodified in movies like Pretty Baby and The Blue Lagoon and her wildly popular (and controversial) Calvin Klein ads, through the years in the 1980s when her virginity became a public topic, and her journey past her difficult relationship with her alcoholic mother/manager and a bad first marriage to Andre Agassi, to actualization as a wife, mother and writer/producer/actress.  The film only occasionally delivers on all this beyond what’s conveyed by watching the archival footage with 2023 eyes.  Shields herself is candid in her interviews but given to speaking like someone who’s been through years of therapy and has authored several works of autobiography.  The talking heads in the documentary add disappointingly little, mostly just underscoring what the footage already says.  The most bracing sequence in the entire 136-minute project is an apparently spontaneous dinnertime discussion between Shields, her daughters, and her husband about their respective feelings about her teen movies, where everyone’s guard seems down and an actual conversation takes place.  Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields provides a useful historical record of someone whose eventful life has largely become background noise of past decades, but it isn’t up to its deeper ambitions.

MY ANIMAL (MTV):  The idea of linking stories of supernatural identity to characters whose gender, sexuality, or other attributes are different than the norm goes back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer at least.  Jacqueline Castel’s My Animal, written by Jae Matthews, is a rougher, grittier version of that trope, but not really an original one.  The supernatural being this time is the queer teen werewolf Heather (Bobbi Salvor Menuez), who has to cope not only with being shackled and locked in her room during each full moon, but with an alcoholic mother (Heidi von Palleske), an only somewhat supportive father (Stephen McHattie), and the more banal frustration of being the best hockey goalie in her small town but unable to play on the men’s team.  Heather’s horizons are reset when she meets and falls hard for figure skater Jonny (Amandla Stenberg).  But Jonny has a boyfriend, and although she’s clearly attracted to Heather, she may not be willing to break her own bonds to be with another woman.  Castel was clearly working with a very low budget, and My Animal isn’t really a genre movie as such, with little in the way of lycanthropic action.  It’s actually more of a standard Sundance story of an outsider teen who doesn’t fit into her small town, and as such it benefits from a strong performance by Menuez, and by the mood set via Bryn McCashin’s photography and Dean Hurley’s sound design.  However, it lacks the depth of the better entries in that area, and it never fully transforms into a horror tale.  That leaves its moon not quite full enough.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."