There’s an ongoing struggle between the haves and the have-nots. This has typically taken the form of a political struggle that is often framed as class warfare by the haves as the have-nots are simply struggling for their modest piece of the pie. This struggle takes on a peculiar tilt in the new comedy from writer-director Onur Tukel, Catfight, which pits its two female leads against each other with class as the driving backdrop of this knockdown, drag-out feud that continues and continues to escalate over the course a few years. At times Catfight is an incredibly audacious piece of storytelling even if the filmmaking skills on display don’t match the story’s content. It may not be a great movie, but Catfight definitely has its own distinct personality that is sometimes obscured by its heavy-handed liberal messaging.
Veronica (Sandra Oh) has almost everything going for her. Her husband Stanley (Damian Young) works in military contracts is poised to earn a sizable amount of money from an impending war in the Middle East. Her son Kip (Giullian Yao Gioiello) aspires to be an artist, but his staunchly capitalistic parents want dissuade that notion. Though Veronica and Stanley often butt heads, usually over her drinking, they’re at the top of the food chain in the modern world. Across town, however, Ashley (Anne Heche) is an artist struggling to get by. She’s in a loving relationship with her partner Lisa (Alicia Silverstone), though there’s some discord in their relationship due to Lisa being the main breadwinner as Ashley is still trying to earn a living from her art. One fateful night, Ashley takes a gig working as a caterer at a high class party for a little extra money and runs into the affluent Veronica. The two attended college together and their contentious relationship reaches a tipping point in the stairwell as they engage in a brutal fight. The result of the fight leaves Veronica in a coma.
Two years later, Veronica emerges from her coma. Her wealth has been drained by her medical bills and she’s stunned to hear that both her husband and son have died in the intervening two years. Meanwhile, Ashley has finally found success as an artist with her own gallery and high demand for her audacious art. The affluence hasn’t made Ashley any kinder, as she constantly berates her assistant Sally (Ariel Kavoussi). This will all lead to another showdown between Veronica and Ashley, one that will, once again, turn the tables and create an endless cycle of violent retribution between the two women.
The backdrop with which Catfight unfolds is a kind of dystopia where there’s an unending war of terror and the draft has been reinstated. It was in that war where Veronica loses her son and the disillusionment of the perpetual fighting that propels Ashley to artistic success. Same with the aspects of the film’s take on healthcare, these really seem like they were tailor-made as a satire of the George W. Bush presidency, though there is some renewed relevance under the current administration. However, these aspects of the film are often ham-fisted in their approach and work more as an odd distraction that never matches the comedy of the ongoing feud between its main characters.
Where Catfight works best is in its character and the constant rotation between their social status and the violent outbursts that they each take as vengeance. The fights themselves are the high point of the film, unfolding in long scenes that almost rival the classic fist fight from They Live in their veracity. The sound effects employed in these fights are loud and emphatic, adding and audial layer to the visceral brutality. The two leads each give these women a believable reason to resort to fisticuffs to the settle the score which adds a layer of authenticity to the cartoonish violence on display.
The content of Catfight is often working at a higher level than the visual style that writer-director Onur Tukel brings to the film. The cinematography, to put it mildly, is inelegant and often has the look of an internet short film. Visually, the best looking sequence of the film is the second fight which takes place an outdoor tire yard. This is the lone scene that seems to have a bit of style in its lighting and makes the best use of color in the film. It’s not possible to recommend Catfight because of the Tukel’s direction but the audacity, no matter how uneven, of the writing.
- Overall Score
An odd satire that works best when focused on characters and not politics, Catfight features some knockdown, drag-out fights between Anne Heche and Sandra Oh in this uneven comedy.