Catfight *** / *****
Directed by: Onur Tukel.
Written by: Onur Tukel.
Starring: Sandra Oh (Veronica), Anne Heche (Ashley), Alicia Silverstone (Lisa), Amy Hill (Aunt Charlie), Myra Lucretia Taylor (Donna), Ariel Kavoussi (Sally), Damian Young (Stanley), Stephen Gevedon (Tom Ferguson The Art Collector), Giullian Yao Gioiello (Kip), Tituss Burgess (John The Physical Therapist), Jay O. Sanders (Angry Guy), Dylan Baker (Doctor Jones), Craig Bierko (The Talk Show Host).
Catfight is a satire in which two women, who downright hate each other, have three knockdown, drag out fights at two years intervals – those intervals being because after each fight one of them ends up in a two year coma. Both of the women – who are both rich in one fight and poor in another – are complete and utter assholes, who are obsessed with their own petty squabble over everything else in the world – both in terms of those closest to them, who they clearly don’t take into consideration, and to the larger outside world, which is falling down around them as America goes to War with the Middle East. It is a film about selfish, horrible people – and its work better than it probably should.
In the film, Sandra Oh plays Veronica, the rich, trophy wife of Stanley (Damian Young), who is getting tired of her drinking and may just leave her. They have a teenage son, who wants to be an artist, but Veronica doesn’t want that. America is going to war, and Veronica doesn’t care – Stanley will make a hell of a lot of money on this war, and isn’t that wonderful. Anne Heche plays Ashely, a struggling artist, whose art is full of bloodshed and chaos, if not actual insight. She is living with her partner Lisa (Alicia Silverstone), who is tired of being the sole breadwinner, and wants to settle down and have a family. She brings Ashely along to help her at a catering gig for a fancy party – which is where Ashely and Veronica meet (again). They were friends in University, but had a falling out. Now, reunited, they passive aggressively pick at each other, going over old wounds that leaves them both shaken. When they meet up again – this time in an empty stairwell, the fists fly in the first extended fight sequence that leaves Veronica in a two year coma. When she wakes up, everything about her life has changed – and eventually, we will see, everything about Ashley’s has as well.
You could probably program Catfight on a double bill with Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, and while this film isn’t as great as that one, the two do share some of the same DNA. Almost everyone in Catfight is an objectively horrible person. Veronica is a drunken, entitled, rich woman who tramples on everyone around her, even those she says she loves, and doesn’t even see those “beneath” her until she’s forced to. But while it’s easy to make a villain out of the rich lady, Catfight also does the same for the starving artist, staying true to her vision, who can be just as entitled and cruel. Oh plays her role very well, but Heche is downright great in the film – especially in a scene where she rips into an assistant for using the wrong label. But while they’re quite obviously awful, those around them are less obviously awful. Alicia Silverstone does her best work in years as Heche’s wife, especially a scene at a baby shower, where she acts as monsterous as anyone else in the film, but in a more low-key way. I also loved Ariel Kavoussi as Heche’s assistant – who is chipper and nice on the surface, but has some darkness underneath.
Catfight has to walk a very difficult tightrope in terms of tone – as all satires do – and I don’t think the film quite nails it. I liked everything between the two women, and some of the stuff in their orbit. But the wider the film casts its nets, the more obvious and strained the film felt (we really didn’t need the late night talk show host or the fart machine). I get it – the world is falling apart, and we’re all focusing on our own petty shit, but there had to be a better, smarter more original way to get that across.
Still, Catfight is an odd movie – and an interesting one, and it has some great performances in it. The fight sequences are extended, violent, bloody and absurd – and overall quite fun. The film doesn’t quite work, but its fun watching it try.