‘Catfight’ Review: A Hilarious and Bonkers Smackdown Between Anne Heche and Sandra Oh
Here’s the pitch: Two college enemies reunite at a party years later. Fueled by alcohol and gallons of rage, they start beating the living crap out of each other. I’m not talking about some light hair-pulling or petty slapping; I’m talking full-on violence that would make Quentin Tarantino wince. That’s Onur Tukel’s Catfight, a pitch-black comedy and political satire about two women with an insatiable hunger for revenge, where head-butts and punches are their chosen form of therapy.
The film opens on a sardonic late night TV host (Craig Bierko) joking about the emerging U.S. war in the Middle East. The show brings out its inane, though funny running gag the “Fart Machine,” a grown man wearing a giant diaper who comes onstage as fart noises play. But when Veronica’s (Sandra Oh) teenage son and housekeeper start laughing at the TV, she quickly shuts them down with judgmental contempt. A possible alcoholic and woman of privilege, Veronica is a SoHo trophy wife who enjoys nothing more than sucking all the joy out of a room.
When her teenage son Kip tells her he wants to go to art school, wine drunk and dazed, Veronica ridicules him, saying she knew someone in college who wasted her life on art. That former classmate is Anne Heche’s Ashley, a painter living in Bushwick, Brooklyn with her girlfriend Lisa (Alicia Silverstone). An art buyer strolls through Ashley’s studio grimacing at her work; lots of crude sexual imagery she describes as a creative reaction to current politics.
Catfight’s real fun begins when Veronica and Ashely finally reunite for the first time in 20 years. When Veronica orders a drink at her husband’s (Damien Young) company party, she finds Ashley behind the bar as a caterer. One insult after another is spewed, and as the tension brews the two toss back their glasses of Chardonnay and go their separate ways. But when they bump into each other in the stairway, Veronica throws the first punch. A ruthless, bone-crunching, blood spewing theatrics of violence ensues as the two women beat one another to, literally, a bloody pulp. It’s horrific and vicious, and Tukel shows us just how dark of a satire his movie is when the next scene finds Veronica waking up in a hospital. She’s been in a coma for two years, and has had multiple devastating, grim losses while being asleep. It’s so blunt and depressing you can’t help but laugh.
Now Ashley as a successful artist while Veronica works as a hotel maid. Though Veronica is quickly humbled, it’s Ashley who’s the pompous and tyrannical one. While there are some genuine heartfelt moments throughout, as soon as Tukel starts pitying either character, he whips it right back into its scathing, morbid sense of humor. Veronica and Ashley soon meet again and this time their second brawl is ignited by even more hatred. It’s a brutal, gory showdown that ends with Ashley in the hospital, and so the cycle continues.
Some viewers might take issue with this concept. A movie that pits women against each other with excessive violence can’t possibly be feminist, right? But as much as it may seem offensive or exploitative, it’s refreshing how far it lets it female characters go, and oh boy do they go too far. If this were a movie about two male leads it would look the same as any average action flick, but Catfight refuses to handle its characters with extra care because of their gender.
Passing the Bechdel Test with flying colors, Catfight is all about showing women breaking and defying the boundaries of expected female behavior. Although written and directed by a man, Catfight is coasting on powerful feminine energy. And by a certain point the fighting reaches such an extreme – seriously, this film is so barbaric it’ll have you covering your face in shock – that it’s less a celebration of violence, and more of a bloody act of catharsis. We see these women express their anger, grief, and regret as any other character would, just here it’s by breaking ribs and smashing skulls. It’s an exhilarating thing to watch, especially with Oh and Heche's performances of sheer ferocity.
Ultimately, Catfight doesn’t ask that you psychoanalyze or try to understand its characters’ motives – we never learn what fueled their initial rivalry. Pure and simple, Catfight is a total blast.