Catfight (2016)

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It’s been a relatively quiet week in the world of cinema, and I was looking for something low profile to tide me over until next when both Beauty And The Beast and Get Out hit the British big screens. Searching the listings, the only picture that really caught my attention was Catfight. Knowing next to nothing about the film apart from a broad premise and the fact that I was a fan of the leading cast, in I ventured to a screen where I was the sole audience member. I love it when that happens, it makes me feel like I’m a millionaire with a movie theatre in my own home.

Hmm. What can I say about Catfight? I’ll start with the fact that it is, as the kids these days say, absolutely cray cray. The film tells the story of Veronica (Sandra Oh) and Ashley (Anne Heche), two former college friends living in New York whose lives have taken very different paths, and who clash at a party one evening to devastatingly violent consequences. Over the next four years, and with fortunes dramatically changing for both characters at different times, both Veronica and Ashley find themselves consumed with hunting down and exacting revenge on one another in the form of several more violent encounters, all of this amidst a worryingly realistic, slightly dystopian future in which America has waged full war on the Middle East and has reinstated the military draft. Sounds like a lot to take in, right? That’s because it absolutely is! I can confidently state that I have never quite seen anything like Catfight. Very much a dark comedy with dramatic overtones, the film is a clear allegory that money and fame can’t buy happiness, especially for two such incredibly unlikeable people. It is also a display of the fact that holding seemingly meaningless grudges can escalate in to something utterly out of control, but if I’m being honest, my main takeaway from the film was just how insane it was to watch these crazy fight scenes, scenes usually reserved for action movies, in what is essentially an indie dramedy.

There is without doubt a visceral entertainment factor in watching these two woman tear pieces out of each other at defining points throughout the narrative. Whilst the violence is not necessarily realistic, it is certainly cinematically exhilarating, filled with wall bounces and heightened punch sound effects. At one point, Veronica and Ashley take to pounding each other with hammers and wrenches, and if that isn’t worth the price of admission alone then I don’t know what is. What is quite remarkable about the picture is that alongside the showpiece fight scenes, the filmmakers have been so ambitious in their world building efforts. The impact of this war with the Middle East looms large on both Veronica and Ashley, and contributes largely in different ways to their respective fortunes, and for some reason, setting the story in this heightened version of reality means that the somewhat farcical nature of the central fighting theme feels much more palatable, even normal. It’s best not to take a film like this too seriously and pick it apart unnecessarily, but if there were any key criticism to give, it would be that the mirroring of Veronica and Ashley’s changing fortunes is less cute on the screen and more repetitive than the filmmakers might have pictured on the page. Regardless, Catfight is a peculiarly exhilarating romp.

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Hats off to Sandra Oh and Anne Heche for playing two of the most annoying, unlikeable characters this year so far. As Veronica and Ashley, the root of their hatred stems from the classic root of being too fundamentally similar, despite taking very different paths in life. As the alcoholic trophy wife, Sandra Oh is deliciously condescending and superior, whilst Heche’s take on the anger filled artist feels satisfyingly authentic. The audience are never given the reason why this duo’s seemingly once amiable college friendship went sour, but the great thing about their performances is that you don’t have to know what the root of it was because they are both so great at exuding hatred for one another that it is the now that counts, not the unseen past.

For a unique story like this, the physicality of the performance is just as important as the acting integrity, and though I would wager big money on Sandra Oh being able to take down Anne Heche in no time at all in real life, the two actresses both give as good as they get and show absolutely no signs of apprehension or embarrassment when bringing the most intense and violent moments to life. A handful of fun supporting performances are given by the likes of Alicia Silverstone, Ariel Kavoussi, Amy Hill and Myra Lucretia Taylor who all help to add some texture to the heightened version of New York that is depicted on screen.

Overall, Catfight is an utterly bizarre movie that, whilst certainly not charming, has an addictive quality to it that indulges something deep within the viewer. There is a reason that shows like Jerry Springer are so universally popular, they regularly display the most carnal aspects of humanity, and in the characters Veronica and Ashley, we get to see two seemingly respectable individuals lose all abandon and go in hard. By no means a future classic, but definitely something that holds more entertainment value than other more traditional black comedies.

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