★★★ / ★★★★
Here is a portrait of two despicable women, former college friends who recognize one another at a cocktail party in New York City, named Veronica (Sandra Oh) and Ashley (Anne Heche), the former an alcoholic trophy wife and the latter an artist struggling to pay the bills. At first glance, one appears to be a more disgusting human being than the other, but as the material delves deeper into its satire and pitch black comedy, it makes the case that Ashley and Veronica are equally repugnant—just in different ways.
Written and directed by Onur Tukel, “Catfight” is a project with uncompromising vision, so daring in its willingness to play with extreme tones so joyously that just about every scene is firecracker. It is certain to divide audiences. Those who are accustomed to mainstream stories of New York women learning over time that they are strong together are almost certain to find the picture an oddity, a sick joke. But those with a stranger palate are likely to recognize that the material has something important to say about a cornucopia of topics: toxic relationships, how people don’t really change even though their life circumstances certainly do, envy, the grass being greener on the other side… until you get there and realize it’s a plastic lawn.
I admired Oh and Heche’s performances because they are able to adapt to the extreme fluctuations of tone with seeming ease. The viewers get the impression that not only are they able to laugh at themselves as performers but they are willing to experiment, play with, and shape scenes that sound or look awkward on paper into a reality we can actually buy into as audiences on a wild ride. Thus, the dramatic and comedic scenes, as jet-black as they are, work well apart and as complements of each other. And while there are drawn-out, exaggerated fight scenes that can give “Kill Bill” women a run for their money, these are mere tools to push the plot forward in more interesting directions.
Its jokes are clever and relevant in terms of the media we choose to consume as a society. For instance, there is a recurrent joke about the war in the Middle East. Although it is talked about on television, the “news” segment is almost always followed by a man in diapers walking in front of the camera and passing gas. There is always a character watching who laughs at the fart joke—even though statistics of American soldiers’ deaths had just been announced mere five seconds prior. We assume these characters who laugh are dumb or simpletons. I admired that the writer-director has the insight to make these characters not appear as they are; he challenges our assumptions of people—how they look, how they sound, what they choose to laugh at, and what appears to motivate them.
Boiled down its most elementary elements, “Catfight,” I think, is the writer-director’s critique of us as a narcissistic American society at the moment. The humor is full of wit, caustic, and occasionally savage; its vibrant wickedness at times left my mouth agape with astonishment. I wish more comedies were as smart and bold as this.