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Review: 'Catfight'

By Glenn Dunks.

I was recently chatting with a friend about Fist Fight, a new Ice Cube comedy that I honestly did not know even existed. They described how the film takes its entire runtime to work up to the titular action only to not have been at all worth it. No such problems with Onur Tukel’s Catfight, a brutal satire that is as subtle as a gut-punch but which certainly gives audiences exactly what it advertises. And does so over and over again. Early and often.

The film stars Anne Heche and Sandra Oh as old college friends Ashley and Veronica who find themselves consumed by hate and resentment towards each other for reasons of envy and self-hatred who soon wage a protracted game of revenge...

Tripling-down on its over-the-top violence, Catfight quickly reveals that its unhinged sensibilities will be repeated over a triptych structure set amid a not-too-fantastical alternate future on the brink of war. With the help of effective make up work and comically bass-hitting, bone-crunching sound effects, their confrontations are gleefully staged and choreographed by stunt coordinator Balint Pinczehelyi, but still shocking in their impact and in how unwilling Tukel is hold back on his savage impulses.

Savage is in fact a great word to describe Catfight in general. This film positions Ashley and Veronica as symbols of America, angry and resentful to the point of absurdity. The film is red-raw in its antagonism to modern culture. It’s true you don’t need to dig very deep to get what Tokul is saying about humanity’s propensity for violence and war in the micro and the macro sense. It has plenty of misanthropic vitriol to go around for warmongers and profiteers, Manhattan privilege, the finance sector, pretentious art snobs, Brooklyn, over-protective parents, and, well, America in general. Significantly, the only sympathetic characters are those initially portrayed as jokes and stereotypes; further digging into the Turkish-American director’s criticisms of a current political and cultural climate that chooses to play in a sandbox of face-value judgments.

Does Tokul’s script lean too easily on a symmetrical structural gag that sees our heroines waking up from comas and going through the same processes of discovery as they learn their unfortunate fates (including Dylan Baker as a doctor and Tituss Burgess as a nurse recycling dialogue years apart)? Perhaps, although that repetitions helps to highlight the way cycles of violence are so hard to escape and the way they can stunt us emotionally and physically and harms those around us.

It’s certainly a film that has its own point-of-view which it shares repeatedly. One running joke involves American desensitization and features a recurring appearance by Craig Bierko as a lowest common denominator late-night host. This joke is particularly lacking in polish, offering exposition through a cheap narrative device.

It’s curious to compare Catfight to the recent Sundance Grand Prize winner I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (available on Netflix), which also has a similar cynical streak about the world, its own ballsy take on extreme violence and a sneaky sense of warped humour but which is rooted more in tragedy than absurd comedy. That film will get the bigger slice of attention given how much easier it plays into both audience expectations and traditional storytelling beats. But if Catfight’s watercooler-ready artistic decisions and excellent performances by Oh and Heche can get its most singular filmmaker just a sliver of attention, more than was afforded his earlier Applesauce (although we reviewed it here), then that’s a win. It’s bound to be one of the most unique films of 2017 and might just go on to be one of the year’s most emotionally relevant titles.

previous reviews | more from Glenn

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Reader Comments (6)

Damn you. I've just searched for Fist Fight and now I know Christina Hendricks is in it, and now I have to see it!

March 3, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Love this review! It looks so bizarre and yet, seems as if the film couldn't be more timely. Also, Anne Heche 4EVA.

March 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAmandaBuffamonteezi

Two actresses we definitely miss and that have faded slightly before we were ready for it

March 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

Tony, Oh is at least in the new American Crime and she is always great so it'll be good to see her get some attention again.

March 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Anne Heche 4EVA indeed. What is she up to now (besides catfighting)?

March 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

This is opening in my city this weekend. Saw the trailer and it looks ridiculously crazy. Can't wait!

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.

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