Director: Onur Tukel
Cast: Sandra Oh, Anne Heche, Alicia Silverstone, Mary Lucretia Taylor, Ariel Kavoussi, Amy Hill, Damian Young, Giullian Gioiello, Craig Bierko, Dylan Baker
Running Time: 1:36
Release Date: 3/3/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | March 2, 2017
As a joke, Catfight is a punch line with a really shaky setup. The punch line is that two women get into a series of knock-out fights over the course of several years. The setup is that they hate each other.
At first, the reasons for that hatred are unspecified. It's just a general sort of loathing. They knew each other in college and parted ways, seemingly without any grand declarations or gestures of ill-will. They meet again, by chance, at a party, decades after graduating and going about with their respective lives. There's tension, of course, and each one offers a few passive-aggressive digs at the other. They bump into each other in a stairwell a few minutes later, and the result is a brawl that gives the impression that both combatants want to kill each other.
The first fight is brutal, as are the two other ones that follow, and writer/director Onur Tukel gives each one a piece of classical music to accompany it. The sound of every hit is the stuff of a generic effects reel. The result is almost cartoonish, but we need that particular modifier for the description because the result is also bloody and physically devastating for the participants. Each one of the women ends up in a two-year coma at different points following two of the fights.
They're intended as comedy, we gather, because the rest of the movie is played for laughs, too. It's something of a class comedy, in which Veronica (Sandra Oh) and Ashley (Anne Heche) are on opposing ends of the socioeconomic spectrum at different times. Veronica begins the movie as the wealthy wife of a successful businessman (Damian Young). Ashley starts off as a struggling artist whose live-in girlfriend Lisa (Alicia Silverstone) makes ends meet for the household by working for a catering company. The wealth status of the two protagonists switches on account of the first coma, which leaves Veronica destitute after her husband dies.
Veronica looks down on artists, even her own son Kip (Giullian Gioiello), whose life she has planned out for him—Yale followed by a job in the financial sector. Ashley is something of a purist who works primarily in reds to depict gruesome scenes, such as a pile of dead babies. Her assistant Sally (Ariel Kavoussi) draws bunnies and colors them blue. Ashley hates that color and lets her assistant know that fact in a tirade that's better suited to a more substantial topic, like, say, politics.
Politics are on Tukel's mind, by the way. The story of the fighting women plays out against the backdrop of newly elected President, who—in between the time of the first fight and the time that Veronica wakes up from her coma—reinstates the draft (after lowering the age of conscription to 16: "If you're old enough to drive, you're old enough to kill") and deploys a million-strong military force to set the Middle East straight. The news of these international happenings come, in part, from the conscious characters but mostly from a late-night political comedy show, in which the host (Craig Bierko) makes light of the severity of what's happening in the world before sending out a man who dances in his underwear to a soundtrack of flatulence.
In light of this background information, one would be tempted to observe that the grudge between the women is meant to be a comedic allegory of the ongoing, no-end-in-sight "War on Terror." It's tempting, except for the fact that Tukel either undercuts or completely demolishes such a reading. Note how the resolution to the story of the conflict in the Middle East contrasts with the two women's antagonism. Also consider the way Tukel portrays that late-night comedian as a hack, whose observations are overly broad and whose reliance on a running fart joke renders his salient talking-points useless. If he's jabbing at jokey political commentary while engaging in a jokey piece of political commentary himself, that's the equivalent of Tukel laughing at someone for slipping on a banana peel as he unknowingly walks toward a slippery floor.
Giving the filmmaker the benefit of the doubt—that he isn't making a broad comedy about international crisis while poking fun at broad comedy about the same subject—is a bit tough, though. What other point is there to this? We can't take Catfight at face value because of its obvious undertones, and the undertones go against what the movie is at face value. At least Oh and Heche give these roles their all, but that's definitely not enough, either.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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