Catfight (2016)

Director: Onur Tukel

Writer: Onur Tukel

Cast: Anne Heche, Sandra Oh, Alicia Silverstone, Ariel Kavoussi, Damian Young, Giullian Yao Gioiello

Cert: 15

Running time: 95mins

Year: 2016

What’s the story: Veronica (Oh) and Ashley (Heche), two roommates in college, meet many years later and pent-up resentment in unleashed in a series of brutal brawls.

What’s the verdict: If Happiness director Todd Solondz teamed up with Freedom author Jonathan Franzen, Catfight is a decent indication of what they would produce.

A brutal, absurdist, black comedy, it is a biting attack on foreign wars and domestic indifference, a wry commentary on pettiness and jealousy, and Fight Club for women.

Set kind of now-ish, there is a War burning up the Middle East. Trophy wife Veronica’s wealthy husband, Stanley (Young), is on the verge of landing a military contract that will make them fabulously wealthy. The only fly in the ointment is Veronica’s son Kip (Gioiello) insists on indulging his talent for art, rather than following in the financial footsteps of his parents.

Meanwhile, struggling artist Ashley is strong-armed into tending bar at a private function organised by her party planner girlfriend Lisa (Silverstone, great and initially unrecognisable).

Unfortunately, it is Stanley’s birthday bash and after a few caustic exchanges Veronica and Ashley are exchanging blows… instigating a feud that will last years and see fortune favour and scorn them both.

The trio of smackdowns climaxing each section of Catfight’s three-act structure are what audiences will be talking about when the credits roll. Bruising, bloody and packing a painful wallop (both Oh and Heche can throw a convincing right hook), they are part Tom & Jerry, part Raging Bull.

But, there is more to Onur Tukel’s movie than superbly choreographed fists of fury hurled by two respected Hollywood actresses.

American indifference to endless foreign conflicts and the toxic effects of wealth and privilege are his primary targets. Sufficient ammo remains however for an attack on fair-weather liberalism: a baby shower with Lisa pouring smiley derision on each gift is straight out the Ricky Gervais playbook on awks-comedy, while both lead characters sell their principles for a taste of the good life.

Ensuring none of this falls into strident ranting is Tukel’s clever morality tale script and note perfect performances from Catfight’s cast who handle the bold tonal shifts. Oh and Heche inject their characters with witty hubris and genuine pathos as their actions trigger events that see tragedy take aim at them equally. And there is no Obamacare to properly patch them up.

Both women are painfully unlikeable; witness Ashley’s extraordinary, uncomfortable verbal evisceration of dippy assistant Sally (a memorable Kavoussi) for using incorrect labels when dispatching her paintings. But, it is testament to the actresses that by the final scenes you are rooting for them not to find reasons to throw down.

Swipes at TV culture trivialising the most terrible tragedies add nothing new, but Catfight is frequently laugh-out-loud, equally gasp-out-loud and, like a well-landed punch, leaves quite a mark.

Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel

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