UK Release Date: 10th March 2017
Runtime: 95 minutes
Director: Onur Tukel
Writer: Onur Tukel
Starring: Sandra Oh, Anne Heche, Alicia Silverstone, Ariel Kavoussi, Peter Jacobson, Dylan Baker
Synopsis: Two former high school friends come to blows when they meet at a fancy party, at opposite ends of the social spectrum, and find that their little scuffle has the potential to irrevocably change both of their lives forever.
Satire is a tricky thing to get right, but now feels like the best time to be experimenting with that sort of humour. The world is in a highly unusual position and so that position seems likely to create a selection of highly unusual films with plenty to say about the world around us. In that vein comes the entirely singular and occasionally baffling Catfight, which is one of the strangest cinema releases of the year. It’s a bizarre hybrid of irreverent satirical comedy, class war drama and face-smashing action movie that certainly leaves a mark behind, even if not every punch it throws actually lands.
The film introduces us to perma-sozzled trophy wife Veronica (Sandra Oh), whose husband Carl (Peter Jacobson) is on the cusp of landing a major contract related to an upcoming war in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Ashley (Anne Heche) is planning to have a baby with partner Lisa (Alicia Silverstone) and trying to flog her uniquely angry artwork. Ashley and Veronica meet at a swanky party, where Ashley is helping to serve drinks, and it transpires that they were once school friends who have now spun off into very different directions. They have a tense verbal exchange, followed by a very physical brawl in a stairwell that ends up changing both of their lives, with incredibly unusual consequences.
There’s something to be admired about the fierce and bold originality of Catfight. Onur Tukel‘s film is an entirely singular beast that aims an awful lot of punches in the direction of its audience. The film is a commentary on the human obsession with social status and also packs in some jabs at the warmongering nature of America and, aptly enough, the occasional crass indulgence of material nominally defined as political satire. The latter manifests in a sporadically funny running gag where a late-night TV host delivers a “state of play” monologue before bringing on a farting comrade to get a few easy laughs.
The film boasts two powerhouse central performances from Anne Heche and Sandra Oh, both of whom clearly understand the tone Tukel is trying to achieve. Neither star is reaching for much subtlety because it isn’t needed. From the comedically over-cranked fight sequences to their hilariously snide conversations, which are steeped in class snobbery, the duo’s chemistry sizzles when they’re on screen together. Both of the characters are thoroughly unsympathetic and each is close to unbearable when things are going their way. We care just enough, though, about the people that surround them – namely Ariel Kavoussi‘s adorably put-upon assistant to Ashley – to carry the film through its desperately unlikable protagonists.
Catfight is intriguing in its approach to satirical context. Its story progression, which genuinely has to be seen to be believed, hinges on a clear three-act structure held together by some bizarre recurring motifs – a repetitively dull coma doctor – and some insane plot twists. The connective tissue is the fighting, which is a masterclass in offbeat sound design and brutality that feels as if it has been ripped from the pages of an exceedingly violent comic book. Some of the battles seem to go on just a little too long and the lurches in plot are occasionally a touch too bizarre, but war isn’t subtle and jealousy isn’t nuanced, so in a way, the film’s social commentary is bang on point.
Unfortunately, there are huge passages of time in Catfight where it all becomes a little too much of a head-scratcher. There are a few too many strange turns and often the viewer is left in the lurch when it comes to what is actually happening. Most of the time, though, there’s too much happening for it to matter. Tukel also masterfully sidesteps a potentially saccharine ending with a final scene that makes a perfect and potent point about the futility of violence. It’s a satisfying note on which to end a film that defies all categorisation.
Pop or Poop?
Onur Tukel’s latest film is a brilliantly absurd creation, powered by central performances from two actors who know exactly what movie they are making and fully commit to it. The satire is immensely heavy-handed, but Tukel makes some solid points and there’s enough entertainment in the genuinely shocking fight scenes to keep the film moving through some of the slower, more out-there moments.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
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