Catfight

Synopsis: Prepare to sink your claws into Catfight, a brutal and darkly hilarious film that combines the violence of Fight Club and the poignant comedy of Arrested Development, all mashed into one of the most original and funniest movies of recent years.

Struggling artist Ashley (Anne Heche) and wealthy housewife Veronica (Sandra Oh) were friends at college, but their paths have not crossed since. When they find themselves attending the same event (Ashley working as a waiter at Veronica s rich husband s party), their initial thinly-veiled verbal pleasantries soon take a turn, leading to an all-out brawl and all-consuming rivalry that will keep these two locked in combat for years.

With supporting appearances from Alicia Silverstone as Ashley s lesbian love interest, and Dylan Baker playing an overworked coma doctor, Catfight turns the portrayal of women s fights in movies on its head in the most violent of ways possible, landing a killer satirical blow at modern day society.

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Catfight 7.5

eyelights: Anne Heche. Sandra Oh. its conceit. its social commentary. its deep dark humour.
eyesores: its heightened violence. its poorly choreographed fights. its deep dark humour.

“My spirit is broken. My heart is filled with hate. I have nothing left but to destroy you.”

I’m not sure how much I get or like ‘Catfight’. The 2017 motion picture, which stars Anne Heche and Sandra Oh as out of control, violent, revenge-seeking rivals, was dropped in my lap by a friend who really appreciates its dark humour and wanted me to see it.

Oh, it was dark alright.

Writer-director Onur Tukel’s picture is a deeply cynical concoction that satirizes the political climate and growing class divisions in the United States, using as its vehicles a socially-progressive artist and a socially-conservative trophy wife. And crashing said vehicles.

Repeatedly.

In head-on collisions of the Demolition Derby kind.

I wasn’t quite ready for it. Though it had already made it to my viewing list before my friend coerced me, I knew very little about it; I didn’t know that it was so topical and as incisive as this. It probably would have taken quite some time for me to get around to it.

I sat there punch-drunk, unsure what to make of it. Should I laugh? Should I be appalled? The characters are @$$holes, but they reflect common archetypes. Are they protagonists? Or double antagonists? Is the picture reveling in its psychological and physical violence?

I wasn’t sure. I just knew that it was intended to be humourous.

Intentions are one thing; reality is another.

In some ways, one could almost argue that ‘Catfight’ is a ‘Fight Club’ for women: not only does it comment on the values our society is built on, but it finds its two former college friends releasing the torment of societal ills by pounding each other into oblivion.

Except that, in this picture, the violence is as brutally cartoonish as can be.

For instance, the three extended fight sequences were backed by zealous fanfare, which degraded them into caricature – despite their rather appalling aggression. The hits were also exaggerated, making very loud smacking sounds, but producing minimal damage.

In real life, these women would be disfigured and handicapped.

Here, they’re merely cut and bloodied.

While each wakes up from a coma two years after their last melée, in both cases it’s due to accidents. Neither of our abrasive pro-antagonists were actually cruel enough to inflict that much damage – though they would inevitably be blamed by their rival anyway.

And the hostilities would continue.

My friend said that she enjoyed watching this picture because it releases a lot of pent-up anger; she derives satisfaction from watching the comical pummeling. I get that, because another friend says she likes to watch ‘Shaun of the Dead‘ for exactly the same reason.

Personally, I preferred ‘Catfight’ for its social commentary. Though some critics have found the satire a little heavy-handed, I liked that it drew its lines in the sand so cleanly. In fact, it fell completely in line with its naked violence; everything is dialed up for effect.

I especially enjoyed their mirror wake-up calls, both literal and figurative, where they realize that they’ve lost everything to circumstance and to a flawed system. It’s both devastating and amusing to see them deserted by everyone due to government regulations.

And seeing the pair get karmic retribution, each in turn, after years of abusing their personal staff, was deeply satisfying. Though they’re both on opposite sides of the spectrum, they’re both @$$holes – and seeing them get a taste of their own medicine was fun.

Mostly, though, I really dug Anne Heche and Sandra Oh’s performances.

Anne Heche was always a strong actress, but I haven’t enjoyed a lot of her movies; aside for her turn as a neurotic White House staffer in ‘Wag the Dog‘, she’s left me cold. But she’s perfectly cast as a worn, seething, misanthrope – sometimes spontaneously exploding into balls of rage.

Sandra Oh is also an excellent performer who leaves me cold more often than not. Here she incarnates the smug, condescending, self-absorbed type extremely well. And, though her character softens slightly after losing everything, her sense of entitlement is never abandoned.

The pair are a great match.

Are their fights credible, though?

Well, Heche and Oh certainly do their best, roaring, groaning and grunting through the scenes to give them a feral quality. But, thankfully, they’re enhanced by editing and sound effects – otherwise, we’d be distracted by the fact that they sometimes miss their target.

The picture, however, doesn’t. And it ensure that the audience doesn’t either: by mirroring the two characters’ outcomes, it makes sure that its various messages are quite clear. Health care is good. The “war on terror” is bad. And North American values are skewed.

Some of my favourite bits involve Alicia Silverstone, as a Anne Heche’s partner, getting excited about the couple’s pregnancy: She walks around with a dummy baby, for practice, and takes it all too seriously. She even berates her friends for their “improper” baby shower gifts.

It’s all so very awkward and ridiculous.

But so spot on.

‘Catfight’ is a deeply caustic take down of the pretensions and hypocrisies of North American society. Cynics and the discontent may get a few laughs out of it, mocking the absurdity of it all, but it’s very likely that general audiences won’t really know what to make of it.

Some might even take it at face value.

Heck, it happened with ‘Fight Club’: some idiots started pounding on each other in underground pugilist groups, not realizing that the original was satirical – and that they are the joke. Similarly here, our two leads are not even remotely role models – they’re caricatures.

And yet they’re reflections of ourselves.

Ultimately, that was the greatest appeal of ‘Catfight’ for me; it puts a spotlight on some of the aspects of our culture that frustrate me. I’m just not sure if its approach is effective. To paraphrase the picture, do we need insanity to pull us out of our current insanity?

Does it serve as a brutal wake-up call? Or does it just numb its audience to reality?

Would a subtle approach perhaps be better?

Date of viewing: July 2, 2017

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